Document Records - Vintage Blues and Jazz

Document Records
St Louis Barrelhouse Piano 1929 - 1934

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Sylvester Palmer
Henry Brown
Dolly Martin
Tee McDonald
Robert Peeples
Ike Rodgers
Bessie Mae Smith (St Louis Bessie)
Wesley Wallace


Wesley Wallace
01 - St. Louis daddy (Bessie Mae Smith, vocal) Listen
02 - Farewell baby blues (Bessie Mae Smith, vocal) Listen
03 - Wicked devil`s blues (Robert Peeples, vocal) Listen
04 - Fat greasy baby (Robert Peeples, vocal) Listen
05 - No.29 (1929) Listen
06 - Fanny Lee blues Listen
07 - Dying baby blues (Robert Peeples vocal/acc) Listen
08 - Mama`s boy (Robert Peeples, vocal) Listen

Sylvester Palmer
09 - Do it sloppy Listen
10 - Broke man blues Listen
11 - Mean blues Listen
12 - Lonesome man blues Listen

Henry Brown
13 - Stomp `em down to the bricks Listen
14 - Malt can blues (Ike Rodgers and his Biddle Street Band) Listen
15 - Twenty First St stomp Listen
16 - It hurts so good Listen
17 - Henry Brown blues Listen
18 - Screenin` the blues Listen
19 - Blues stomp Listen
20 - Blind boy blues Listen
21 - Eastern chimes blues Listen
22 - Deep Morgan blues Listen
23 - All men blues (Dolly Martin vocal) Listen
24 - Beef man blues (Tee Mcdonald vocal) Listen
25 - Throw me in the alley (Peetie Wheatstraw vocal) Listen

Various artists
Genre: St Louis Blues, Barrelhouse Piano, Blues Piano.
Informative Notes by Mike Rowe.
Detailed discography.
By the 20's St Louis's black areas must have seemed like one huge barrelhouse of country jukes as the migrants carried on their Southern traditions odd concession to the new urban environment. Pianos, a rarity in the country were anything but in town and St Louis and its twin, the wide-open East St Louis, were piano towns (possibly a legacy of the mid-Western ragtime).
When, in 1929, Sam Wolff of Wolff's Record Shop, 1319 Biddle, despatched Henry Townsend and pianist Sylvester Palmer to Chicago to record for Columbia and Smoky Harrison, Bessie Mae Smith and Wesley Wallace to Paramount the stage was set for a discographical mystery which would run and run. Briefly, Wesley Wallace has been suggested as the pianist on Sylvester Palmer's records and is even thought to be Robert Peeples too! There are problems with these identifications though. The raggy Do It Sloppy hardly supports Wallace's presence (although this could be the lone example of Palmer himself) but serious objections are the usually reliable Henry Townsend's insistence that Palmer played his own piano (he had a "peculiar" style according to Townsend). On the evidence of Fanny Lee and the fantastic No. 29 Wallace is a much more dynamic performer but from Bessie Mae Smith's sides a less skilled accompanist.
The Peeples theory rests on Mama's Boy where the piano, certainly Wallace, sounds as though the singer is accompanying himself. This MAY be Wallace and simply wrongly credited for the vocalist of Fat Greasy sounds a different singer. Henry Brown who also accompanied Peeples apparently remembered him and should have known if he'd recorded as Wesley Wallace but like Townsend Brown didn't know Wallace. An unissued test of Peeples, Worry Blues (L188-1), has a poorly played guitar accompaniment suggesting, if anything, that Peeples might have been a guitarist!
Bessie Mae Smith, who was married to Big Joe Williams, recorded as Blue Belle, St Louis Bessie, possibly Mae Belle Miller and, as late as 1941, as Streamline Mae (Mary Belle Smith). Tee McDonald is almost certainly Tecumseh McDowell, and possibly Dolly Martin also. McDowell, from Arkansas, was eighteen when she recorded for Bluebird in 1933 and this session, just a year later, may have necessitated a pseudonym. Most of the St Louis women singers sound similar; influenced by Mary Johnson or Alice Moore, they generally had high-pitched sometimes shrill, nasal voices with material (eg. Beef Man) often as rough and ready as their singing. These were truly barrelhouse women. One of their favourite accompanists was the much better known Henry Brown from Troy, Tennessee. Most of Brown's recordings were with Rodgers or as accompanist to Mary Johnson or Alice Moore but his own solos are varied and attractive examples of his style. Eastern Chimes has, like Blind Boy, a chorded bass and gives a curiously "hollow" sound, which seems to be a characteristic of the St Louis pianists. Deep Morgan is a performance of some power and Henry Brown Blues strides away to great effect with its walking bass interspersed between treble breaks. Brown's easy-paced solos and appealing melodies seem the antithesis of the eccentric brilliance of "Palmer-Wallace" but they all share that same hollow mournfulness that seems to typify the St Louis barrelhouse blues.
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