Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Henry Thomas, Texas songster
Henry Thomas - Bull Doze Blues (buy) (1928)
Henry Thomas - Fishin' Blues (buy) (1928)
Henry Thomas, aka "Ragtime Texas" was one of the oldest Black folk musicians to ever record. Born in Big Sandy, Tx, in 1874, he recorded in 1928-89 when he was in his fifties. The 23 songs he left us (available on the Yazoo compilation Texas Worried Blues) are a great document on the music that was there before the blues. Henry was the archetypal songster, capable of playing any kind of popular music to entertain his audience and earn his life.
If you want to know more about the man please read this excellent article in The Handbook of Texas Online.
In fact Ragtime Texas only waxed a handfull of "bona fide" blues, and the rest was of various origins : rags, reels and other country dances, vaudeville and minstrel songs, with floating verses taken from many different popular songs.
His lively guitar playing, his use of the quills (see previous post), make him a very original figure of a great influence. His music was re-discovered thanks to the Harry Smith anthology in 1952, that featured a couple of his tunes, including "Fishin' Blues". In the 60's, great old-time music lovers like Dylan ("Honey Aloow Me One More Chance"), Canned Heat ("Bull Doze Blues" becoming "Goin' Up The Country"), Grateful Dead or Taj Mahal covered his songs.
And most of all, Ragtime Texas sang about the itinerant life of the hobo-musician like nobody else, especially in the following song :
Henry Thomas - Railroadin' Some (buy) (1928)
I leave you with this beautiful tribute made by Norman Blake 70 years after Henry Thomas recorded.
Norman Blake - Ragtime Texas (buy) (1998)