Arthur Gunter put the Excello label on the national map in the fifties with “Baby Let’s Play House”. Elvis Presley recorded the song a few years later and scored also a big hit with his version. Arthur Gunter a blues guitarist from Georgia eventually released one album called Blues after Hours in 1971.
Classic blues song “Crazy Me”
“Crazy Me” is my favorite song in his repertoire. It is a blues standard containing some groovy piano rhythm and excellent guitar work. The vocals in “Crazy Me” are catchy and straight forward. This song should be part of every blues set.
Around the internet, you’ll find some cool stories about this bluesman who was born in Gunterorn in Oglethorpe County, Georgia. Arthur Gunter did not have the career a musician with his talent should have had. But nevertheless, he was living comfortably in Michigan in the seventies because he had won $50,000 on the Michigan State Lottery in 1973.
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).
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.”
Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson a career of Blues, Rock ‘n Roll and Rhythm ‘nd Blues
Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson has done it all. The piano player and singer recorded infectious music in a wide range from Rhythm and Blues to Rock ‘n Roll to Rockabilly, Blues and Gospel. You may know him for his 1955 hit record “Red Hot”, which was later covered by Elvis Presley and Billy Lee Riley. But Billy ‘The Kid’ has recorded way more songs in his long career, which led to collaborations with the greatest musicians in Blues and Rock ‘n Roll.
Born in Tarpon Springs, Florida Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson learned the piano at a young age. He joined several local bands before he entered the United States Navy. After World War II Billy Emerson continued performing in the Florida area, where he picked up his nickname “The Kid”. According to Sun Records “He picked up his nickname while playing a joint in St. Petersburg; the club owner dressed the band up in cowboy duds that begged comparison with a certain murderous outlaw.
Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson’ Sun records Days
After Billy Emerson met Ike Turner, while he was stationed in Memphis he became part of Turner’s Rhythm Kings. Turner introduced Emerson to the Sun Record label which led, in 1954 to ‘Billy the Kid’s first single called “No Teasing Around”. Billy Emerson became an important writer for Sun record. his repertoire consisted of a variety of Blues and Rhythm ‘n Blues songs like ‘When it Rains it Really Pours’. He became a popular musician in the Rock ‘n Roll and Rockabilly scene which inspired Elvis Presley, Billy Lee Riley for Sun and Bob Luma to re-record Emerson’s greatest hits.
Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson for Vee-jay Records
Billy Emerson’ last recording for Sun “Little Fine Healthy Thing” failed to sell, Emerson exited Sun to sign with Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records in late 1955. Sun Records recalls: “Despite first-rate offerings such as the jumping “Every Woman I Know (Crazy ‘Bout Automobiles)” and a sophisticated “Don’t Start Me to Lying,” national recognition eluded Emerson at Vee-Jay too”.
At Vee-Jay Record Billy Emerson’s style became more Blues, more Rhythm ‘n Blues, nevertheless his song would stay as catchy as in the Sun period. For example the hit ‘Crazy ‘Bout Automobiles’, consist steady drums a groovy horn ensemble and a twisting saxophone solo. Above all there is room for the swinging vocals of Billy ‘the Kid’ Emerson.
Chess Records period
After a few years at Vee-Jay the recordings continued at Chess Records in 1958. Along his first few singles was “Woodchuck”. Emerson recorded this song earlier at Sun Records. The Chicago version, is much bluesy more singing, less talking. Another song from the Chess period is ‘Holy Mackerel Baby’, in this song Emerson tried a style of singing I haven’t heard before. Clean, no shouting, no gritty of raw-edge.
Woodchuck at Chess Woodchuck at SunHoly Mackerel Baby’
Own Label Tarpon and collaborations with the biggest bluesman
After recording for some of the largest labels in Blues and Rock ‘n Roll around the USA, Emerson decided to start his own label called Tarpon in 1966. In addition to Emerson’s own stuff, Tarpon issued Denise LaSalle’s debut single. He continued performing with the Biggest Bluesman like Willie Dixon, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Earl Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson II. Billy ‘The Kid’ had an impressive career which led him to musical styles in the broad land of Roots Music.
Photo Credit feature picture: By Lioneldecoster (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
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
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.