“Beale Street Blues”     Alberta Hunter, 1927. Written by W. C. Handy. (Source: Respect: A Century of Women in Music [Rhino, 1999])

“Minglewood Blues”       Cannon’s Jug Stompers with Noah Lewis, Memphis, Tennessee, 1928. Noah Lewis, harmonica; Ashley Thompson, vocal and guitar; Gus Cannon, banjo and jug.  Minglewood (Menglewood) was a lumber camp a few miles east of the Mississippi River near Dyersburg, Tennessee. Source: Smithsonian Folkways/Anthology of American Folk Music

“Memphis Shakedown”       recorded in Chicago on November 8, 1934 by the Memphis Jug Band. Charlie Pierce, fiddle; Will Shade, guitar and vocal; Charlie Burse, guitar and vocal; Robert Burse, washboard; Jab Jones, jug.  The title “Memphis Shakedown” combines the idea of hillbilly breakdown with the African American shake, or shimmy-shake.  Jug band music has been traced to the early years of the century and to Louisville, where jug bands provided entertainment at horse race galas and other social occasions.   Source: Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, vol. 4 (Revenant: Austin, Texas, 2000).

“Memphis Shakedown”  (2009)    Carolina Chocolate Drops.

“Kassie Jones     Furry Lewis, Memphis, August 28, 1928.  Parts 1 and 2.  Furry Lewis, vocal and guitar. (alternate titles: On the Road Again; and related “Casey Jones” songs- Casey Jones; Talking Casey; Freight Train Boogie).   Kassie Jones was released in two sections. Before the invention of magnetic tape in the late 1940s, original master recordings were made on aluminum, shellac or lacquer discs. These disc could only hold approximately four minutes of sound. Many longer songs were broken into two. Source: Smithsonian Folkways/Anthology of American Folk Music

Read about Casey Jones.

Sun Records

“Rocket ’88′”     Jackie Brenston with His Delta Cats. This is one of several candidates for “the first rock n’ roll record.” It features Jackie Brenston on vocals and baritone sax, Raymond Hill on tenor sax (the break solo) Ike Turner (later of Ike and Tina Turner) on the piano, Willie Kizart on guitar (distorted, the story goes, by a broken speaker cone caused by the equipment falling off the roof of their car on the way to a nightclub performance), and Willie Sims on drums. It was recorded by Sam Phillips in March of 1951, but immediately leased by him to Chess Records in Chicago, where it became a #1 single on the R&B charts.

“B.B. Blues”    B.B. King. 1951.  A popular disk jockey on Memphis’ black radio station, WDIA, listened to by white teenagers as well as a large black audience all over the Mid-South, Riley King announced his stage name “B. B.” (short for “Blues Boy”) with this recording. None of the five records that King recorded with Phillips in 1951 registered on the national charts, although his “Three O’Clock Blues” on another label reached number one on the R&B charts by the end of the year. This single was released by RPM Records, a subsidiary of the Bihari Brothers’ Modern label, before Phillips started his own Sun label. King went on to achieve international recognition as a bluesman.

“There’s A Man In Jerusalem”  The Southern Jubilees.  1951. Phillips recorded both black and white gospel groups and singers as well as the traditional and emerging secular genres; in this, his tastes were typical of many musicians and fans, including Elvis, in the musical culture of Memphis. This performance, which begins in the smooth “jubilee” style of gospel singing, but shifts into the rougher “sanctified” sound as it progresses, features Jose Lee and Lavorne Smith singing lead vocals; Dan Taylor, tenor; James Sanders, baritone; and Eddie Henderson, bass. The 1951 recording was only issued on a British anthology of Sun recordings in 1977.

“Just Walkin’ In The Rain”   The Prisonaires. 1951?  The six members of this vocal group –Johnny Bragg, lead; John Drue & Ed Thurman, tenor; William Stuart, baritone and guitar; and Marcell Sanders, bass–were all serving time in the Tennessee State Penitentiary. When President Harry Truman heard the group perform at the Tennessee governor’s mansion, Phillips remembers him saying, “Governor, you ought to pardon every damn one of them.” In the sweet crooning style adopted (with more rhythmic backing) by doo-wop, the group successfully conjures up a wistful world elsewhere.

“Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee”   Malcolm Yelvington. 1954.  This song was composed during WWII by Stick McGee, brother of the Piedmont bluesman Brownie McGee, and with the originally obscene refrain cleaned up to the non-sense phrase “spo-dee-o-dee,” it was recorded by him and became a big R&B hit in the late 1940s. Yelvington is backed by a group composed of Reece Fleming on piano, Gordon Mashburn on guitar, Miles “Bubba” Winn on steel guitar nad Jake Ryles on bass. It is an example of the growing popularity of white “cover” versions of black hit songs, such as Elvis’ recording earlier in 1954 of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s All Right” and his later version of Big Momma Thornton’s hit “Hound Dog.”

“Blue Suede Shoes”  Carl Perkins. 1956. This classic of the early rock n’ roll style known as rockabilly was written by Perkins with some help from Johnny Cash, as Phillips recalls it. It was recorded at Sun after Elvis Presley had left the studio for RCA, with Perkins’ brothers Jay and Clayton on rhythm guitar and bass, and W. S. Holland on drums. It rose to number two on both the pop and R&B charts in early 1956 and to number one among country and western records, illustrating the common crossover success of early rock n’ roll. Presley recorded it himself for RCA in 1956.

“Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On”    Jerry Lee Lewis & His Pumping Piano. Lewis was the wildest of the rockabilly performers at Sun.  He absorbed African American blues and boogie-woogie music by sneaking into black clubs as a child in his native Ferriday, Louisiana and was thrown out of a Pentecostal Bible college in Texas for playing a boogie-woogie version of a gospel song in the chapel. He set fire to his piano at a rock concert put on by the influential rock DJ Alan Freed after playing this song, recorded in 1957, and put an effective end to his pop career in 1958 by marrying his fourteen-year old second cousin. His pounding piano back-beat is a crude version of earlier boogie-woogie; his vocal style is surprisingly tempered and polished even as it threatens to break into a “sanctified” scream. As in all the songs featured here, he is backed by Roland Janes on guitar and J.M. Van Eaton on drums.

“Great Balls of Fire”    Another Jerry Lee Lewis (piano and vocal) classic, with the addition of an unidentified bass player. The minimal instrumentation is characteristic of rockabilly. It was a cross-over hit after its release in 1957, rising to number one on the pop charts, number three in R&B and number one in C&W.

Memphis and Elvis

“That’s All Right”
   Elvis Presley, 1954.  Lyrics.

“That’s All Right”   Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, 1946.

“Blue Moon of Kentucky”   Elvis Presley, 1954. Lyrics.

Blue Moon of Kentucky”   Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys. 1954. Source: The Best of Bill Monroe (MCA 1999)

“Blue Moon”  Elvis Presley, 1954.

“Good Rockin’ Tonight”   Elvis Presley, 1954.

“Mystery Train”   Elvis Presley, 1955. Lyrics.

“Mystery Train”     Little Junior’s Blue Flames, 1953.

“Heartbreak Hotel”   Elvis Presley, 1956 Lyrics.

Hound Dog”   Big Mama Thornton  (1952)

“Hound Dog” 
  Elvis Presley, 1956.  Lyrics.

“Don’t Be Cruel”   Elvis Presley, 1956.

 Elvis Gospel:

“Take My Hand, Precious Lord”    Elvis Presley, 1957.

Stax Records: Memphis Soul

Brief History of Stax

Founded in 1957 as Satellite Records, the label changed its name to Stax Records in 1961. It was a major factor in the creation of the Southern soul and Memphis soul music styles, also releasing gospel, funk, jazz, and blues recordings. While Stax is renowned for its output of African-American music, the label was founded by two business siblings, Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton (STewart/AXton = Stax). It featured several popular ethnically-integrated bands, including the label’s house band, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, and a racially integrated team of staff and artists unheard of in that time of racial strife and tension in Memphis and the South.

Following the death of Stax’s biggest star, Otis Redding, in 1967, and the severance of the label’s distribution deal with Atlantic Records in 1968, Stax continued primarily under the supervision of a new co-owner, Al Bell. Over the next five years, Bell expanded the label’s operations significantly, in order to compete with Stax’s main rival, Motown Records in Detroit. During the mid-1970s, a number of factors, including a problematic distribution deal with CBS Records, caused the label to slide into insolvency, resulting in its forced closure in late 1975.

“A Love of My Own”   Carla Thomas, 1961.

“Green Onions”  Booker T. & the MGs, 1962.

“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)  Otis Redding. 1965.

“Birds and Bees”  Rufus & Carla Thomas, 1966.

“Hold On! I’m Comin'”   Sam & Dave, 1966.

“Knock on Wood”  Eddie Floyd, 1966.

“Try A Little Tenderness”   Otis Redding, 1966.

“Born Under A Bad Sign”   Albert King, 1967.

“Soul Man”   Sam and Dave, 1967.

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay  Otis Redding, 1968.

“The Memphis Train”      Rufus Thomas, 1968.