Huddie William Ledbetter (January 20, 1888 – December 6, 1949) was an American folk and blues musician, and multi-instrumentalist, notable for his strong vocals, virtuosity on the twelve-string guitar, and the songbook of folk standards he introduced.
He is best known as Lead Belly. Though many releases list him as "Leadbelly," he spelled it "Lead Belly." This is also the usage on his tombstone, as well as of the Lead Belly Foundation. In 1994 the Lead Belly Foundation contacted an authority on the history of popular music, Colin Larkin, editor of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, to ask if the name "Leadbelly" could be altered to "Lead Belly" in the hope that other authors would follow suit and use the artist's correct appellation.
Although Lead Belly most commonly played the twelve-string, he could also play the piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, and accordion. In some of his recordings, such as in one of his versions of the folk ballad "John Hardy", he performs on the accordion instead of the guitar. In other recordings he just sings while clapping his hands or stomping his foot.
The topics of Lead Belly's music covered a wide range of subjects, including gospel, blues about women, liquor, prison life, and racism; and folk songs about cowboys, prison, work, sailors, cattle herding, and dancing.Lead Belly was born Huddie William Ledbetter on the Jeter Plantation near Mooringsport, Louisiana in January 1888 or 1889. The date is unclear: the 1900 United States Census lists "Hudy William Ledbetter" as 12 years old, with a birth date of January 1888; the 1910 United States Census and the 1930 United States Census also list his birth year as 1888. However, in April 1942, Ledbetter filled out his World War II draft registration with a birth date of January 23, 1889. His grave marker reflects this date.
He was the younger of two children to Sallie Brown and Wesley Ledbetter, preceded by a sister named Australia. "Huddie" is pronounced "HYEW-dee" or "HUGH-dee." His parents, who had cohabited for several years, married on February 26, 1888. When Huddie was five years old, the family settled in Bowie County, Texas.
By 1903, Huddie was already a "musicianer," a singer and guitarist of some note. He performed for nearby Shreveport audiences in St. Paul's Bottoms, a notorious red-light district there. He began to develop his own style of music after exposure to a variety of musical influences on Shreveport's Fannin Street, a row of saloons, brothels, and dance halls in the Bottoms.
The 1910 census of Harrison County, Texas, shows Ledbetter, listed as "Hudy," living next door to his parents with his first wife, Aletha "Lethe" Henderson. Seventeen at the time, she had been 15 when married two years earlier. It was there that Ledbetter received his first instrument, an accordion, from his uncle Terrell. By his early 20s, after fathering at least two children, he left home to find his living as a guitarist and occasional laborer.
Influenced by the sinking of the RMS Titanic in April 1912, he wrote the song "The Titanic," the first composed on the 12-string guitar later to become his signature instrument. Initially played when performing with Blind Lemon Jefferson (1897–1929) in and around Dallas, Texas, the song is about champion African-American boxer Jack Johnson's being denied passage on the Titanic. While Johnson had in fact been denied passage on a ship for being Black, it had not been the Titanic Still, the verse sang: "Jack Johnson tried to get on board. The Captain, he says, 'I ain't haulin' no coal!' Fare thee, Titanic! Fare thee well!" a passage Ledbetter noted he had to leave out when playing in front of white audiences.Ledbetter's volatile temper sometimes led him into trouble with the law. In 1915, he was convicted of carrying a pistol and sentenced to time on the Harrison County chain gang. He escaped, finding work in nearby Bowie County under the assumed name of Walter Boyd. In January 1918 he was imprisoned at the Imperial Farm (now Central Unit) in Sugar Land, Texas, after killing one of his relatives, Will Stafford, in a fight over a woman. It was there he may have first heard the traditional prison song "Midnight Special".[page needed] In 1925 he was pardoned and released after writing a song to Governor Pat Morris Neff seeking his freedom, having served the minimum seven years of a 7-to-35-year sentence. In combination with good behavior (including entertaining the guards and fellow prisoners), his appeal to Neff's strong religious beliefs proved sufficient. It was quite a testament to his persuasive powers, as Neff had run for governor on a pledge not to issue pardons (at the time the only recourse for prisoners, since in most Southern prisons there was no provision for parole). According to Charles K. Wolfe and Kip Lornell's book, The Life and Legend of Leadbelly (1999), Neff had regularly brought guests to the prison on Sunday picnics to hear Ledbetter perform.
In 1930 Ledbetter was in Louisiana's Angola Prison Farm after a summary trial for attempted homicide, charged with knifing a white man in a fight. It was there he was "discovered" three years later during a visit by folklorists John Lomax and his then 18-year-old son Alan Lomax. Deeply impressed by Ledbetter's vibrant tenor and extensive repertoire, the Lomaxes recorded him on portable aluminum disc recording equipment for the Library of Congress. They returned with new and better equipment in July of the following year (1934), recording hundreds of his songs. On August 1, Ledbetter was released after having again served almost all of his minimum sentence following a petition the Lomaxes had taken to Louisiana Governor Oscar K. Allen at his urgent request. It was on the other side of a recording of his signature song, "Goodnight Irene."There are several somewhat conflicting stories about how Ledbetter acquired the famous nickname "Lead Belly", though consensus holds it was probably while in prison. Some say his fellow inmates dubbed him "Lead Belly" as a play on his last name and reference to his physical toughness; it is recounted that during his second prison term, another inmate stabbed him in the neck (leaving him with a fearsome scar that he subsequently covered with a bandana), in defense Ledbetter nearly killed his attacker with his own knife.By the time Lead Belly was released from prison the United States was deep in the Great Depression and jobs were very scarce. In September 1934, in need of regular work in order to avoid having his release canceled, Lead Belly met with John A. Lomax and asked him to take him on as a driver. For three months he assisted the 67-year-old in his folk song collecting abroad the South. (Son Alan was ill and did not accompany his father on this trip.)
In December Lead Belly participated in a "smoker" (group sing) at a Modern Language Association meeting at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, where the senior Lomax had a prior lecturing engagement. He was written up in the press as a convict who had sung his way out of prison. On New Year's Day, 1935, the pair arrived in New York City, where Lomax was scheduled to meet with his publisher, Macmillan, about a new collection of folk songs. The newspapers were eager to write about the "singing convict" and Time magazine made one of its first filmed March of Time newsreels about him. Lead Belly attained fame (although not fortune).
The following week, he began recording with ARC, the race records division of Columbia Records, but these recordings achieved little commercial success. Of the over 40 sides he recorded for ARC (intended to be released on their Banner, Melotone, Oriole, Perfect, Romeo and very short-lived Paramount series), only five sides were actually issued. Part of the reason for the poor sales may have been because ARC insisted on releasing only his blues songs rather than the folk songs for which he would later become better known. In any case, Lead Belly continued to struggle financially. Like many performers, what income he made during his lifetime would come from touring, not from record sales. Lead Belly styled himself "King of the 12-string guitar," and despite his use of other instruments like the accordion, the most enduring image of Lead Belly as a performer is wielding his unusually large Stella twelve-string. This guitar had a slightly longer scale length than a standard guitar, slotted tuners, ladder bracing, and a trapeze-style tailpiece to resist bridge lifting.
Lead Belly played with finger picks much of the time, using a thumb pick to provide a walking bass line and occasionally to strum. This technique, combined with low tunings and heavy strings, gives many of his recordings a piano-like sound. Lead Belly's tuning is debated,[by whom?] but appears to be a downtuned variant of standard tuning; more than likely he tuned his guitar strings relative to one another, so that the actual notes shifted as the strings wore. Lead Belly's playing style was popularized by Pete Seeger, who adopted the twelve-string guitar in the 1950s and released an instructional LP and book using Lead Belly as an exemplar of technique.In 1949, Lead Belly had a regular radio broadcast on station WNYC in New York on Sunday nights on Henrietta Yurchenko's show. Later in the year he began his first European tour with a trip to France, but fell ill before its completion, and was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease. His final concert was at the University of Texas at Austin in a tribute to his former mentor, John A. Lomax, who had died the previous year. Martha also performed at that concert, singing spirituals with her husband.
Lead Belly died later that year in New York City, and was buried in the Shiloh Baptist Church cemetery in Mooringsport, 8 miles (13 km) west of Blanchard, in Caddo Parish. He is honored with a life-size statue across from the Caddo Parish Courthouse in Shreveport.
Mathis James "Jimmy" Reed (September 6, 1925 – August 29, 1976) was an American blues musician and songwriter, notable for bringing his distinctive style of blues to mainstream audiences. Reed was a major player in the field of electric blues, as opposed to the more acoustic-based sound of many of his contemporaries. His music had a significant impact on many rock and roll artists who followed, such as Elvis Presley, Billy Gibbons and the Rolling Stones.Reed was born in Dunleith, Mississippi, in 1925, learning the harmonica and guitar from Eddie Taylor, a close friend. After spending several years busking and performing in the area, Reed moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1943 before being drafted into the US Navy during World War II. In 1945, Reed was discharged and moved back to Mississippi for a brief period, marrying his girlfriend, Mary "Mama" Reed, before moving to Gary, Indiana to work at an Armour & Co. meat packing plant. Mama Reed appears as an uncredited background singer on many of his songs, notably the major hits "Baby What You Want Me to Do", "Big Boss Man" and "Bright Lights, Big City".By the 1950s, Reed had established himself as a popular musician and joined the "Gary Kings" with John Brim, as well as playing on the street with Willie Joe Duncan. Reed failed to gain a recording contract with Chess Records, but signed with Vee-Jay Records through Brim's drummer, Albert King. At Vee-Jay, Reed began playing again with Eddie Taylor and soon released "You Don't Have to Go", his first hit record.Reed maintained his reputation despite his rampant alcoholism; sometimes his wife had to help him remember the lyrics to his songs while recording. In 1957, Reed developed epilepsy, though the condition was not correctly diagnosed for a long time, as Reed and doctors assumed it was delirium tremens. Jimmy Reed died in Oakland, California in 1976, of respiratory failure,eight days short of his 51st birthday. He is interred in the Lincoln Cemetery in Worth, Illinois.In 1991 Reed was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
CeDell Davis (born Ellis Davis, 9 June 1927) is an American blues guitarist and singer.
Davis is most notable for his distinctive style of guitar playing. Davis plays guitar using a table knife in his fretting hand in a manner similar to slide guitar, resulting in a welter of metal-stress harmonic transients and a singular tonal plasticity. He uses this style out of necessity. When he was 10, he suffered from severe polio which left him little control over his left hand and restricted use of his right. He had been playing guitar prior to his polio and decided to continue in spite of his handicap, and developed his knife method as the only way he could come up with of still playing guitar. Davis was born in Helena, Arkansas, United States, where his family worked on a local plantation. He enjoyed music from a young age, playing harmonica and guitar with his childhood friends.
Once he sufficiently mastered his variation on slide guitar playing, Davis began playing in various nightclubs across the Mississippi Delta area. He played with Robert Nighthawk for a ten-year period from 1953 to 1963. While playing in a club in 1957, a police raid caused the crowd to stampede over Davis. Both of his legs were broken in this incident and he was forced to use a wheelchair since that time. The hardships resulting from his physical handicaps were a major influence in his lyrics and style of blues playing.
Davis moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas in the early sixties and continued his artistic work. In recent times, Davis' music has been released by the Fat Possum Records label to much critical acclaim. His 1994 album, produced by Robert Palmer, Feel Like Doin' Something Wrong, received a 9.0 from Pitchfork Media who called it "timeless."
The Best Of CeDell Davis (1995) was also released, with help from Col. Bruce Hampton and The Aquarium Rescue Unit. The Horror of It All followed in 1998. His album When Lightnin' Struck the Pine, released in 2002, included work by musicians Peter Buck, Barrett Martin, Scott McCaughey, and Alex Veley.
Earl “Little Joe” Ayers is a blues guitarist and singer based in Holly Springs, Mississippi. For over thirty years, he was a member of the Soul Blues Boys, Junior Kimbrough’s long-time backing band.
Ayers was born in nearby Lamar and began performing at house parties in the area when he was 15. When asked what inspired him to begin playing the guitar, he replied, “It was something that other people weren’t doing.” He also saw the enjoyment that his second cousin, Lindsey Boga, and Junior Kimbrough derived from their musical pursuits, and “didn’t want to be left behind.”
Boga was a contemporary of Kimbrough’s as well as the first person he performed publicly with. Ayers bought his first guitar from Boga’s father for $4 and began learning from his second cousin. “I was around Junior about every other Sunday; I was around [Boga] every other day,“ Ayers says. After Boga went into the Army, Ayers learned more from Kimbrough himself, “picking up his sound.” Ayers absorbed Kimbrough’s unique style so well that eventually Kimbrough asked him to play with him, and in 1965 he joined his band.
Calling themselves the Soul Blues Boys, the band was initially composed of Kimbrough and Ayers on guitar and George Scales on bass. Kimbrough later added a drummer to their group; John Henry Smith, John Henry McGee (both now deceased), and Calvin Jackson all served terms behind the drum kit for Kimbrough. Scales was frequently absent due to the demands of his job as a concrete finisher for a construction firm, and during his long absences Ayers began to play bass in his place. He remained the bassist for the Soul Blues Boys until Kimbrough’s death in 1998.
Ayers toured extensively in the region with Kimbrough and company, but drew the line on playing overseas as he doesn’t care for flying. They made the rounds of the festival circuits in the summertime, and played at house parties and local jukes such as Marshall Scruggs’ in winter. They also frequently performed with members of the Burnside family. “It became almost like a combining thing,“ Ayers recalls. “Whenever they’d have a gig, we’d get one; whenever we’d get a gig, they’d get one.“ In 1991 Ayers played bass behind Kimbrough in Robert Palmer’s documentary Deep Blues; their performance of “All Night Long” was filmed before the release of Kimbrough’s debut album of the same name on Fat Possum Records, which was also produced by Palmer.
Ayers has performed irregularly since Kimbrough’s death. In recent years he has made appearances at the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic in Potts Camp, as well as at Red’s in Clarksdale. He also occasionally sits in with fellow Hill Country blues musicians such as Kenny Brown. Having recently retired from his job as an electrician for the Holly Springs School District, he and fellow Soul Blues Boys George Scales and Calvin Jackson are discussing a possible return to full-time performing. Ayers has four children and two grandchildren; his son Trenton Ayers is also a bassist, and currently performs with the Mississippi Delta-based blues-rock band The Electric Mudd. Ayers released "Backatchya", a solo album, on Devil Down Records in September 2011.
The Mississippi Blues Trail’s Hill Country Blues marker, Holly Springs, MS: http://www.msbluestrail.org/blues_trail/hills/holly/hill_country/hill_country.swf Junior Kimbrough’s artist’s page at Fat Possum Records’ website: http://www.fatpossum.com/artists/junior.html The Electric Mudd’s MySpace Page: http://www.myspace.com/themudd Devil Down Records: http://devildownrecords.com/backatchya
81 Year Old Mississippi Bluesman Leo “Bud” Welch Makes Debut Album
By Casebeer– November 7, 2013
Posted in: Blues, Blues Articles, Delta Blues, Hill country Blues, Mississippi Blues, News.(BRUCE, MS) — It seems incredible that Leo “Bud” Welch has, until now, remained unknown to the wider musical world.
A casual call from Bud to the Oxford, Mississippi record label, Big Legal Mess began a chain of events that would lead to the debut album of the blues and gospel man at the young age of eighty one.
Born in 1932 in Sabougla, Mississippi, Welch has lived his entire life in the area. Raised with four brothers and seven sisters, Welch’s musical ability was first noticed by his family when he and his cousin took to an older cousin’s guitar quicker than it’s owner, R.C. Welch.
Soon, Leo and R.C. were picking out tunes from the radio and playing them for family and friends. Welch also picked up the harmonica and fiddle along the way.
As the years passed, Bud continued to entertain at picnics and parties in the area. His repertoire consisted of many of the blues and radio standards and favorites of the day.
On several occasions, Welch came to the attention of professional musicians, but planned auditions or jam sessions never materialized. When the Mondays rolled around, Welch was back at work, logging with his chainsaw or working on a local farm.
Yet Bud played on, absorbing songs from the radio. Gospel music was a particular favorite and he learned from his church and the Fairfield Four on Nashville’s WLAC. Even the name of Welch’s then current group, Leo Welch and the Rising Souls, suggests a belief in spiritual redemption anticipating the direction the Mississippi native would take.
One possible reason Welch flew under the radar for so long was his move into the church around 1975. The vast network of churches in Mississippi and the South offered consistent, safe venues to perform. Welch’s brand of blues was becoming old fashioned and gigs were harder to come by. The churches offered a place where a musician like Leo could still play his style, just slightly modified for the gospel. To this day, these music programs and services often pass unnoticed to even lifetime residents in the local communities.
Outside music enthusiasts who have obsessively canvased places like the Mississippi Delta and Hill Country over the last 75 years have largely overlooked the churches in their ceaseless attempts to discover a juke joint out of time. It wouldn’t be that far from overstatement to say that any single county in Mississippi probably has more churches than the all-time sum total of juke houses.
But Welch never let the blues go. He has never seen any reason to:”“I believe in the Lord, but the blues speaks to life, too. Blues has a feeling just like gospel; they just don’t have a [bible].” Welch continues to sing with two local gospel groups in the Bruce, Mississippi area; The Spiritualaires and Leo Welch and the Sabougla Voices, as well as hosting The Black Gospel Express TV show every 1st and 5th Sunday on WO7BN-TV.
“So don’t go looking over your shoulder when listening to Bud’s music,” says the liner notes. “Come on into this church, there won’t be any old church ladies staring you down from the self-righteous section of the pews. Despite what some folk might insist, church isn’t always under the steepled roof. Where ever you are, have a sip, tap your foot, stomp it even fellowship with your friends and rejoice with the Lord and Leo ‘Bud’ Welch. Crank it.”
Sabougla Voices will be released on January 7th on CD and vinyl.
Louis Arzo Youngblood, aka “Gearshifter,” is a Jackson-based guitarist and vocalist who performs a unique blend of country blues, modern soul-blues, and everything in between.
Louis was born in Picayune, and grew up in Jackson, Bogalusa, and, mostly, Tylertown. There Louis was raised in a simple rural environment surrounded by older relatives. As a young boy Louis learned from his great aunt Essie Mae Youngblood the rudiments of guitar. She also taught him several of the songs he performs today, including the traditional folk song "Rabbit In A Log" and the Tommy Johnson song "Bye Bye Blues".
Essie Mae was influenced directly by Johnson, one of the most significant bluesman in the greater Jackson area, who married her sister Rosa in the 1930s and lived briefly in Tylertown. Johnson had a profound influence on a number of artists in the Tylertown area, including Louis’ grandfather and namesake, Arzo Youngblood.
At 16 Louis joined the Job Corps, in which he learned to operate heavy machinery at camps in Arizona and New Mexico. He played informally with a band during his three-year tenure, and in the process became more interested in developing his skills on the guitar.
After leaving the Corps Louis returned to Jackson, but often stayed in New Orleans with his grandfather Arzo, who had lived there since the early ‘60s. Arzo’s home in the 9th Ward was a gathering place for older musicians, including Boogie Bill Webb. Louis didn’t study directly with the older men, but their music was nevertheless influential on the development of his music and repertoire. He occasionally performed in the city with the Jackson-based group Roosevelt Roberts and Sons.
Although he never recorded commercially, Arzo was recorded by field researchers David Evans, who was investigating the influence of Tommy Johnson, and Axel K�stner. Recordings of Arzo by Evans appeared on several now out-of-print LPs; several of the recordings made by K�stner are on the Evidence CD boxed set Living Country Blues.
In the ‘70s Louis began performing in Jackson together with artists including Robert Robinson and Tommy Lee at clubs including Dorsey’s and the Queen of Hearts. Mostly though, he worked as a heavy machinery operator at sites across the country. In the late ‘70s he lived in Miami, where he performed with Bahamians in a Calypso band.
Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s Louis performed irregularly in Jackson, and became more active in recent years. In 2003 he played regularly at the E&E Lounge in Jackson with T.C. and the Midnighters, and since late 2003 has played every weekend at Monte’s Fine Dining in Jackson fronting the Delta Blues Boys.
Recently Louis has been performing more as a solo acoustic artist, creating a distinctive mix by blending the country blues he learned as a youth with soul/blues classics and electric blues standards. In this capacity he has performed at Hal and Mal’s Restaurant in Jackson, the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, and the Rootsway Roots and Blues Food Festival in Parma, Italy.
See Also: Youngblood's myspace page.