Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Peg Leg Howell - The Legendary

One of the first recorded products of the Atlanta blues community of the pre-war era, Peg Leg Howell bridged the gap between the early country-blues sound and the 12-bar stylings to follow, with his guitar work evolving over time to include finger-picking and slide techniques. Born Joshua Barnes Howell in Eatonton, Georgia on March 5, 1888, he was a self-taught guitarist who acquired his nickname after a 1916 run-in with an irate brother-in-law which ended in a shotgun wound to the leg and, ultimately, amputation. Unable to continue working as a farmhand, he migrated to Atlanta, where he began pursuing music full-time; in addition to playing street corners for passing change, Howell supplemented his income by bootlegging liquor, an offense which led to a one-year prison sentence in 1925. Soon after his release, he signed to Columbia; his first session for the label yielded the menacing "New Prison Blues," a song he'd learned while serving time. Having amassed a huge repertory of songs over the years, Howell recorded prolifically over the following months, his work ranging from traditional ballads ("Skin Game Blues") to dance numbers (the minor hit "Beaver Slide Rag") to even jazz ("New Jelly Roll Blues"); while some of his sides comprised solo performances, others featured the backing of his street group, the Gang (guitarist Henry Williams and fiddler Eddie Anthony). Columbia pulled the plug in 1929, at which time Howell returned to playing Atlanta's famed Decatur Street district; Williams was himself imprisoned not long after, and following Anthony's 1934 death, Howell gradually disappeared from the area blues circuit. He spent the next several decades clouded in obscurity, with diabetes claiming his other leg in 1952. Howell was 75 when the Testament label sought him out in 1963 to record his first new material in over 40 years; he died in Atlanta on August 11, 1966.

Frits filling a request before it was asked for.



Deaf Steever said...

Thanks a million for this one! PLH is one of my favourites. I understand Howell wasn't at the top of his game on this album, but I look forward to hearing it anyway - been looking for it for a while! :-) Thank you for sharing! Cheers!

Deaf Steever said...

Not sure if it will show it - it didn't ask me to log in before submitting! - but that first comment was from me. Thanks again! Much appreciated!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! A great complement --- I love his early sides!

Jillem said...

Many thanks Xyros! A classic.

Peg Leg Howell--Positions/Tunings for his Testament Record

Hi all,
Here are the positions/tunings for Peg Leg Howell's songs on his Testament Record, "The Legendary Peg Leg Howell", recorded on April 11, 1963 in Atlanta at a session supervised by George Mitchell, who with Roger Brown and Jack Boozer had found Howell living in dire poverty in

Atlanta shortly prior to the recording date.
Title Position/tuning Pitch
1. Blood Red River E minor, standard tuning E flat
2. John Henry Vestapol, slide D +
3. Uncle Sam Blues C, standard tuning B
4. Jack Rabbit Blues G, standard tuning F#
5. Worried Blues G, standard tuning F#
6. Jelly Roll Blues Spanish tuning A flat -
7. Jo Jo Blues E, standard tuning E flat
8. Skin Game Blues Vestapol, slide E flat -
9. Coal Man Blues Spanish G +
10. Let Me Play With Your Yo Yo G, standard F#

A couple of thoughts about these performances and their relationship to his early recordings:

* One trend from Howell's early recordings holds true: While playing several tunes in Vestapol and Spanish tunings, he plays only slide in Vestapol (no non-slide pieces) and only non-slide pieces in Spanish (no slide pieces). There is no obvious technical reason for things to have turned out this way, so to utilize those tunings in such a sharply defined way is interesting.
* In these later recordings, G in standard tuning assumes a predominance of preference that it did not have in Peg Leg Howell's early recordings. These later accompaniments in G are for the most part, boom-chang, and pretty simple, certainly nothing like the nifty guitar parts of his early recordings. But then, in 1963, he was a very tired and unwell old man who had not played in years.
* Peg Leg Howell's "Blood Red River" is probably the keeper of the session, a very ominous rendition in minor with a spooky melody. In general, though, it is surprising, considering that he had not played for many years, how many songs he played at this session that he did not record in the '20s. It makes you think that his repertoire in his active period as a street performer must have been much larger than what was documented on his early recordings. -Johnm

teekay said...

Any chance re-up please


Marineband said...

Happy new year and best wishes for 2015!!!

unitstructure said...

Veeeery interesting. Not the Peg Leg Howell of the 20's but there is a haunting,stark quality to this recording.Thank you,never would have come across this.

Dr Oyster said...

Could you pease re up this one ? thanks :)

BDaD said...

@ Dr Oyster
Here is the link (originaly posted by Xyros)

Dr Oyster said...

Thank you :)