Musicians tend to attract quirky nicknames, and more than a few of them stick for life. Louis Armstrong was Satchmo, Coleman Hawkins was Bean, Charlie Parker was Bird, and Lester Young was known as Prez or Tickle Toe. Sometimes they take over an artist's identity. When Furry Lewis was asked in the 1970s how he came to be known as "Furry", he responded that he couldn't remember anymore. In this mix, I'll go through five of my favorite musicians with cool sobriquets. Of course, I'm leaving a lot of people off of this list, but here are a few of the really outstanding ones.
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Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter

Huddie Lead Belly LedbetterHuddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter was a crucial figure bridging blues music and folk music. Bob Dylan joked that he's probably the only convicted murderer to record a popular children's album. Born in 1888, Lead Belly was in and out of prison for much of his life for a murder and an attempted murder, yet his musical talents earned him repeated pardons. He was a human jukebox, able to play in numerous different styles based on what his audiences wanted and was proficient on six-string guitar, twelve-string guitar, and the accordion. When John Lomax "discovered" him, he secured release his release from prison and employed him as a driver while Lead Belly established himself in the New York musical scene. He became famous rather quickly, and he toured Europe before his death in 1948. His records have been reprinted numerous times since then, and he has been covered by rock acts from Creedence Clearwater Revival and Bob Dylan to Nirvana. Lead Belly's nickname has numerous possible explanations, none of them definitive. One theory held that he was shot with a shotgun in the stomach and survived -- a possibility given his violent life. Another theory is that he earned the nickname drinking the homemade liquor inmates offered him in prison. Among his most famous songs, "Midnight Special" stands out and has been covered numerous times. "Goodnight Irene" is another song he helped to popularize. Finally, "Boll Weevil" is another great Lead Belly song about the Boll Weevil epidemic that ravaged the cotton-growing regions of the South.1 Lead Belly - "Midnight Special" [audio:/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Lead-Belly_Midnight-Special.mp3|titles=Midnight Special] Lead Belly - "Goodnight Irene" [audio:/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Lead-Belly_Goodnight-Irene.mp3|titles=Goodnight Irene] Lead Belly - "Boll Weevil" [audio:/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Lead-Belly_Boll-Weevil-Song.mp3|titles=Boll Weevil]  

When it's summer, I want to hear blisteringly hot dance numbers or mellow jams from the torrid regions of the world. I've based this mix on artists from Latin America and the Caribbean; some of it's hot, some of it's mellow, and all of it is good for letting your mind wander to somewhere a bit more exotic. Be warned: finding sources for some of these musicians in English can be a challenge. But that makes the hunt all the more enjoyable. Summer in the Northern Hemisphere ends on September 22nd, so warm yourself up with these jams one last time.
Warm Winds REDEFINE mixtape  

Folklorists like to romanticize blues music as being a pure expression of culture, but recorded blues music was carefully marketed to its intended audience from its very beginning. As early as the 1920s, music aimed at African-Americans was labeled as "race music", and the best way to advertise it was in the pages of African-American newspapers. These newspapers had a wide circulation among urban African-Americans and even in parts of the South, where they were treated as contraband and discretely shared. While living in Arkansas, the singer Big Bill Broonzy recalled furtively reading the most famous of these newspapers, The Chicago Defender, and he made the move to Chicago in part because of what he had learned in the newspaper. Broonzy said that Black readers of the Defender were seen as brave, as it was a newspaper that promoted Black migration to the North, criticized racism in the South, and pushed for social change.1

Linda Perhacs - The Soul of All Natural Things
I spent a long time thinking about how to write this album review of Linda Perhacs' new album, The Soul of All Natural Things, the follow-up to Perhacs' 1970 album Paralellograms and her first new record in 44 years. Paralellograms is a cult classic, and cult classics capture the imagination in part because they stand alone. After approaching the new album warily, I am relieved to say that my image of Perhacs is still intact. Perhacs has slowly reemerged in the music scene as of late, due in part to fans such as Devendra Banhart and Chris Price, and has been working with a number of contemporary collaborators, including Julia Holter, Ramona Gonzalez of Nite Jewel, and Fernando Perdomo. Ramona Gonzalez's voice sounds great next to Perhacs's and accounts for the hymnal quality of some of these songs, particularly on "River of God", and I suspect that Julia Holter brought the electronic noise into this album as well.

The "blind bluesman" is perhaps the dominant image of the genre, and one that evokes a number of associations. As noted by scholar Joesph Witek, the idea of the "blind genius" dates at least as far back as Homer. Given that many of these musicians were extraordinarily talented, their blindness might have fed popular interest in their music. However, blindness was almpso a debilitating condition for many of these men, especially in the rural South, so that the blind musician occupied a place of pity in the public mentality. Economic necessity is probably the most compelling argument for the relatively large number of blind blues musicians. Most African-Americans living in the South had few other possible careers outside of manual labor, and playing music was one of the few options left to a blind man. Even the schools for the blind offered musical education as part of their curriculum, and several musicians got their start in schools. Record companies were quick to play up the fact that their musicians were blind and the suffering that their condition brought them. Paramount Records' Book of the Blues, in its biography for Blind Lemon Jefferson, wrote "Can anyone imagine a more horrible fate than to find that one is blind?" But as writer Luigi Monge also points out, blindness also gave these musicians a certain degree of musical freedom. Cultural taboos barred most musicians from mixing gospel songs with secular songs. Blind musicians could skirt this barrier by virtue of their handicap; because they were playing music to make ends meet and had no other recourse, they could operate with relative immunity. As blind musicians often acted as mentors to young musicians, this fed the diffusion of the two genres into popular music.
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Blind Gary Davis

Blind Gary DavisBlind Gary Davis, also known as the Reverend Gary Davis, is one musician who captures the sacred aspect of the blues. Born in 1896 in South Carolina, he was one of eight children and became blind as an infant. He moved to Durham, North Carolina in the 1920s and became a street musician in what a burgeoning center of black culture in the South. In those years, record store owners often doubled as talent scouts, and Davis was discovered by a now-famous scout named J.B. Long in 1935. Gary Davis played in what is known as the Piedmont Style, which was a heavily syncopated fingerpicking that sounds akin to ragtime. In 1937, Gary Davis found religion and was ordained as a Baptist minister. From then on, the music he played was predominantly gospel, though he sometimes revisited his secular songs for white audiences. In 1940, Davis moved to Harlem, where he lived for the remainder of his life. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he never stopped making music, though his audience was now largely middle-class and white. He was renowned as one of the best guitar teachers in Harlem, offering advice to several future rock and folk stars, including Dave Bromberg, Taj Mahal and Jorma Kaukonen. Davis was a phenomenal guitar player with a powerful voice, and there are numerous tracks of his music worth checking out. "If I Had My Way" is one of those blues songs that was adopted by folkies and then rock musicians, and listening to Davis, one can understand why: Davis' shouts and hollers combine well with his nimble fingerpicking. "Death Don't Have No Mercy" is a darker song but still showcases so much of what made Davis memorable. Finally, "Cocaine Blues" is one of his most famous secular songs.1 Blind Gary Davis - "If I Had My Way" [audio:/mp3/Reverend-Gary-Davis_If-I-Had-My-Way.mp3|titles=Blind Gary Davis - If I Had My Way] Blind Gary Davis - "Death Don't Have No Mercy" [audio:/mp3/Reverend-Gary-Davis_Death-Dont-Have-No-Mercy.mp3|titles=Blind Gary Davis - Death Don't Have No Mercy] Blind Gary Davis - "Cocaine Blue" [audio:/mp3/Reverend-Gary-Davis_Cocaine-Blues.mp3|titles=Blind Gary Davis - Cocaine Blues]

This newest list of musicians includes the Blues musician who probably did more than any other one person to jump-start my interest in older music: Big Bill Broonzy. The fun of listening to somebody who recorded seventy years ago is that you can start to piece together who they influenced and who they worked with, giving you more to listen to. It sent me down a rabbit hole that I haven't even begun to crawl out of. Hopefully, I never will.
See all Forgotten Gems & Dusty Classics Posts Big Bill Broonzy

Big Bill Broonzy

Big Bill Broonzy, born Lee Conley Bradley, was my gateway to blues music. I discovered Broonzy while reading an R. Crumb comic when I was about thirteen years old and decided to investigate. Broonzy's birthplace has been the subject of dispute, though Robert Reisman claims that he was born in Arkansas. Likewise, the year is in dispute as well; Broonzy claimed that he was born in 1893, but subsequent research suggests 1903. Regardless, he moved to Chicago in 1920 and began playing guitar for so-called "rent parties" and for Paramount Records, where he sold poorly. Broonzy's style was all over the place: he varied from country blues to hokum (blues with sexually suggestive lyrics) to small groups reminiscent of rhythm and blues.1 After WWII, his music declined in popularity with black audiences but began to grow in popularity with white audiences once he began touring as part of a folk group with Studs Terkel. Broonzy spent his last years touring in the United States and Europe. His European tours were particularly successful and numerous British musicians -- one being Bert Jansch -- cited him as an important influence. He died in 1958 of throat cancer, leaving behind hundreds of recorded tracks. "I Can't Be Satisfied" might have been the first blues song that I ever listened to, so it seems fitting that I include as part of a Broonzy mix. "Key to the Highway" was recorded in 1940 and was one of his most popular songs as well as a later hit by Eric Clapton. "John Henry" is a great example of the kind of music Broonzy was playing toward the end of his life. Big Bill Broonzy - "I Can't Be Satisfied" [audio:/mp3/Big-Bill-Broonzy_I-Can't-Be-Satisfied.mp3|titles=Big Bill Broonzy - Decatur Street Tutti] Big Bill Broonzy - "Key To The Highway" [audio:/mp3/Big-Bill-Broonzy_Key-To-The-Highway.mp3|titles=Big Bill Broonzy - How Can Cupid Be So Stupid] Big Bill Broonzy - "John Henry" [audio:/mp3/Big-Bill-Broonzy_John-Henry.mp3|titles=Big Bill Broonzy - Jazz Battle]

When I was younger, I used to think that I'd live to like in another era, preferably one where the music was more akin to my own tastes. When I really think about it, however, a collector like me can only thrive in the digital era. Rarities are too hard to find otherwise; if there's only a bare handful of copies of a record in existence, the odds of finding it are much smaller. The internet is the great equalizer if you're looking for something obscure, as it's brought together the collectors into one community. Here's a few of my suggestions for getting your musical fix: Linda Perhacs, Charlie Christian, Earl Hines, Tampa Red, and Mississippi Fred McDowell.
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Linda Perhacs

Linda PerhacsMost of my music falls on the older side, but I think that I have fairly broad tastes in music nonetheless. Psychedelia is an area of interest for me because I like the idea of widening one's perception of reality, and I like the sense of something that's otherworldly – especially when it's not too electronic and is more on the acoustic side. This is what drew me to Linda Perhacs. Finding information on her can be difficult because she spent a great deal of time in obscurity. She became known for a single album in 1970, Parallelograms. The album sold poorly and the record label, Kapp, didn't want to promote it, so she returned to work as a dental technician for three decades while her record became a hot collectible item, completely unbeknownst to her. She was recently rediscovered and has two additional albums waiting to be released.
Every article I can find on her compares her to Joni Mitchell, which is beyond the scope of this article. Her style isn't simple so much as stripped down to its most essential pieces. The melodies can be atonal at times, preventing the music from being too atonal, but it's never so out there that it becomes off-putting. "Dolphin," "Parallelogram" and "Moons and Cattails" are my favorite songs of hers. Linda Perhacs - "Dolphin" [audio:/mp3/Linda-Perhacs_Dolphin.mp3|titles=Linda Perhacs - Dolphin] Linda Perhacs - "Moon and Cattails" [audio:/mp3/Linda-Perhacs_Moon-And-Cattails.mp3|titles=Linda Perhacs - Moon and Cattails] Linda Perhacs - "Parallelograms" [audio:/mp3/Linda-Perhacs_Parallelograms.mp3|titles=Linda Perhacs - Parallelograms]  

Charlie Christian (1916 – 1942)

Charlie ChristianCharlie Christian is one of the greatest guitar players jazz has produced, and to say that he is forgotten is in error. He's well-known among jazz aficionados for having played with some of the greatest musicians of his time -- but he's still relatively unknown among the public at large. He died young, from tuberculosis at the age of 25, and he never fronted a large orchestra or well-known group. However, he played a critical role in the development of bebop. Christian grew up in Oklahoma City and made a name for himself as a local talent. He was mentioned to John Hammond, Benny Goodman's record producer and a keen talent scout, who then introduced him to Goodman. Goodman didn't care for Christian at first and tried to throw him off during their first live performance by playing a song, "Rose Room", that he thought Christian wouldn't know. Christian ended up leading the group on a forty minute rendition of the song, earning him a spot in Goodman's orchestra. While in Goodman's group, Christian often led late-night jam sessions at New York clubs. These musicians were interested in expanding jazz's musical boundaries and included Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Don Byas and others. He died in 1942 but left behind some live recordings that show where he was headed musically. "Rose Room," the song that earned Christian a spot in Goodman's group, is a good song to get an idea of Christian's technique. His stated goal was to play like a tenor saxophonist, and he often played in a style similar to Lester Young. "Flying Home" is another classic of the Goodman sextet and features some of Christian's best work. Finally, if you want to hear what Christian was doing to help develop bebop, listen to "Swing to Bop", where he solos for the first two minutes in a jam session at Minton's in New York. Charlie Christian - "Flying Home" [audio:/mp3/Charlie-Christian_Flying-Home.mp3|titles=Charlie Christian - Flying Home] Charlie Christian - "Swing To Bop" [audio:/mp3/Charlie-Christian_Swing-To-Bop.mp3|titles=Charlie Christian - Swing To Bop]

I must confess, with some embarrassment, that this year was the first time attending the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, and this has been much to my regret. The festival is held in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland underneath the St. Johns Bridge and is the longest-running free jazz festival on the West Coast. "Free" is a bit of a pun here; the festival is both free to attend and also because it highlights the work of free jazz musicians. At the risk of painting with broad strokes, free jazz can best be defined as jazz in which "the rules" have been eliminated: set chord changes and a fixed rhythm are gone. It's a sub-genre that has inspired a lot of controversy among jazz fans, but is also deeply loved by many. Cathedral Park Jazz Festival Photography by James Moulton I go on a Sunday evening, which is the last day of the festival. The atmosphere is, appropriately enough, like a festival, and there are concessions booths, signups for a jazz camp and informative areas around the park. What immediately jumps out at me is the number of families at this event; free jazz isn't necessarily thought of as accessible music, let alone kid-friendly, yet there seem to be a lot of younger kids hanging around. This is why jazz festivals are so relevant, especially when they're organized in a specific neighborhood: they sustain popular interest in an art form that risks becoming a museum piece otherwise, and that interest comes from people who might not be interested in jazz.
July 21st, 2013 - Cathedral Park Jazz Festival at St. Johns Cathedral Park - Portland, OR  

Amassing rare and forgotten music is a peculiar sort of hobby -- one that slowly transforms into an addiction. It's not that I don't love mainstream music. It's just that the thrill of listening to some forgotten gem that everybody else has overlooked is powerful. It also feeds into the collector's impulse I have to overturn every stone to find that song, and my love of complete collections. Not surprisingly, I also like to collect comic books. I guess I'm the type. In any event, here are five lesser-known musicians that I believe everybody should give a listen to, dating as far back as the 1910s and focusing on jazz, folk, and blues.

Don Byas (1912 – 1972)

I discovered Don Byas entirely by accident. I was listening to a Charlie Christian fan recording made in 1941, which was a musician's after-hours gig. There was a tenor saxophone present for some of the songs that sounded so much like Coleman Hawkins that I read the liner notes to see if it was him – only to discover that it wasn't the Hawk, but a guy named Don Byas. I quickly borrowed all the Don Byas CDs I could request and immediately got into him. His playing consistently impressed me, just as it did on that initial Charlie Christian album. Early bebop musicians like Byas were rooted in Swing traditions but wanted to play around with harmonic structure in their songs and experiment, which for me is a "best of both worlds" situation. Don Byas should be on the list of brilliant tenor saxophone players, among Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Sonny Rollins. In collaboration with Hawkins, he made what are considered to be the first Bebop recordings in 1944. Yet he is frequently omitted in jazz history courses, in books and in documentaries, meaning that newer fans of jazz might miss him entirely. Part of this is because Byas lived in Europe from 1945 onward and rarely visited the United States, giving him a large European audience but a smaller American fanbase. You might start by checking out the song that got me hooked: "Stardust" with Charlie Christian.
Purchase Don Byas Albums On Amazon ++ LEARN MORE ABOUT DON BYAS Don Byas - "1944 Stomp" [audio:/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Don-Byas_1944-Stomp.mp3|titles=Don Byas - 1944 Stomp] Don Byas - "Byas A Drink" [audio:/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Don-Byas_Byas-A-Drink.mp3|titles=Don Byas - Byas A Drink]