The Rise of a Contemporary Sound
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: Texas A&M University Press
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These words1 were sung by Blind Lemon Jefferson on the very first secular recording that he made, entitled “Got the Blues.” It was recorded in March 1926 and it was backed by “Long Lonesome Blues” when it was issued on Paramount 12354. Blind Lemon, who came from the rural region of Wortham, Texas, is considered to be the first male folk blues singer on record, and is regarded by many as being the finest of his time. This accolade, however, also goes to Charley Patton from...
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I am also thankful to the researchers and collectors who made their work available to me: Don O, Bill Fountain, Akin Babatunde, Chuck Nevitt, and Tim Schuller in Dallas: Sumter Bruton in Fort Worth; L. E. McCullough, Tari Owens, Clifford Antone, Susan Antone, and John Wheat in Austin; Lorenzo Thomas, Meta Welborn, Lanny Steele, Tracy Hart, Benny Joseph...
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Quince Cox, a cemetery caretaker in Wortham, Texas, leans forward on his John Deere tractor with a whirring mower blade. As I walk toward him, he idles the engine and lowers his sweat-stained felt hat into his lap. I tell him I’m looking for the grave of Blind Lemon Jefferson, and he explains he’s eighty-three years old and knows “just about everything about Blind Lemon.” Then he points across a gravel path to the old “Negro” burying...
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The extent to which the “memory” of Africa informed the origins of the blues varies from place to place in the American South.1 Legal importation of slaves from Africa to the United States was officially outlawed in 1808, although illegal trafficking continued up to the Civil War. George Howe (1890) reported that the last slave ship arrived in the United States in 1859, but it...
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Osceola Mays was born Nell Douglas in Waskom, Texas, east of Marshall. She adopted the name Osceola after an American Indian visited her family home and she asked to be named for him. Her parents were sharecropper farmers, like many other African Americans in East Texas, who eked out a living cultivating and selling cotton. In 1936 she married Clarence Mays, who was...
ELECTRIFYING THE BLUES
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The advent of the amplified electric guitar in the 1930s allowed guitarists to be heard in a band setting and helped propel the instrument from the rhythm section to a lead role. Amplification also allowed players to sustain notes and to create a greater variety of tones and effects. Musicians working in Texas were in the forefront of the transformation of the guitar. Among them...
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The number of African slaves in Dallas County was relatively small, growing from 207 in 1850 to 1,074 in 1860. During the Civil War, the number of slaves in the county increased significantly as slaveholders from elsewhere in the South tried to harbor their slaves in Texas. After the war, freed slaves established seven known freedman communities in Dallas County. The primary settlement...
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Just as African Americans flowed into Dallas, they also migrated to Fort Worth and the surrounding areas of Tarrant County. During the Civil War, the slave population of Tarrant County more than doubled, from 700 to about 1,700. This growth was due partly to the importation of slaves from elsewhere in the South to Texas, where there had been relatively little fighting. Historian Alwyn Barr writes that slave owners were...
THE SAXOPHONE IN TEXAS BLUES
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In 1987, in the Variant Zalen of the sprawling Congresgebouw that houses the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague, Netherlands, Joe Houston is making his first European appearance as a soloist in front of a Dutch rhythm and blues group called De Gigantjes. They have never played together before, though Rob Kruisman, tenor saxophonist for De Gigantjes, has studied Houston’s vintage recordings on 78-rpm sides that are...
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In Harris County, which comprises Houston and its environs, the number of slaves increased from 905 in 1850 to 2,053 in 1860, and by 1870, the black population had tripled in size to 6,509. The population of the Fourth Ward grew after the Civil War, when freed slaves followed the San Felipe Road (present-day West Dallas Street) to Harris County. The Fourth Ward and its historic core, Freedmantown (or Freedmen’s Town), was one of six...
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In Houston’s “Frenchtown” in the Fifth Ward area, the zydeco begins around 9:00 on weekend nights. The crowd is elbow-to-elbow, and the loud enthusiasm grows along with the syncopated rhythms of accordion, electric guitars, drums, and frottoir, or rub board. The rub board was invented in 1946 by Texaco refinery worker Willie Landry, a master welder/metal fabricator in Port Arthur...
Beaumont, Port Arthur, & Orange
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The cities of Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange form what is called the “Golden Triangle” near the Gulf Coast of southeast Texas. It is an area of oil and sulfur production, as well as shipbuilding and rice and shrimp farming. It is also home to thousands of Cajuns—descendants of the French-speaking Acadians who entered Louisiana after being expelled by the British from what is now Nova Scotia, in the period from 1765...
The Move to California
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The blues came to California via the thousands of African Americans who migrated from Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. They were looking for work in the shipbuilding industry of Oakland and the oil refineries along the coast in Long Beach, Bakersfield, and other California cities. Census figures reveal that in 1930, there were only 81,000 blacks in the entire state of California; by 1950 the number had increased to more than a...
San Antonio, Corpus Christi, & The Rio Grande Valley
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Since the 1970s, the music of the Texas-Mexico border region has attracted both critical and popular acclaim. This music, which is usually called Tex-Mex, Chicano, or Tejano, is unique in that it brings together Mexican norteño music and American country and western, blues, rhythm and blues, and rock ’n’ roll. The increasing popularity of this music is due in part to the recent upsurge in ethnic pride among Mexican Americans, but...
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Austin was slower to develop as a blues recording center than Dallas or Houston, although there is a long history of blues in Central Texas. The late researcher Tary Owens believed that in the Austin area the country fiddle may have had its strongest influence in Texas on the development of early blues.1 Oral accounts and music he collected in the mid-1960s corroborated evidence found in WPA slave narratives, suggesting that there...
List of Illustrations
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Page Count: 624
Illustrations: 179 color photos. 316 b&w photos.
Publication Year: 2008
Series Title: John and Robin Dickson Series in Texas Music, sponsored by the Center for Texas Music History, Texas State University