California experienced a phenomenal growth in independent recording in the postwar years, after decades of dominance by the major labels. Millions had flocked there during the war years and they needed entertainment.
Like Memphis, Tennessee, Atlanta was a staging post for itinerant musicians and like Memphis, it was home to an impressive number of guitarists who established a very distinctive style of playing that became synonymous with the city. It was also the location for the first country blues artist, Ed Andrews, to be recorded. Three years later, Julius Daniels was the first Carolina bluesman to record. Atlanta was also a recording centre for out-of-state artists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bo Carter, the Memphis Jug Band, Blind Willie Johnson and Hambone Willie Newbern. A further school of blues gathered around Peg Leg Howell and Eddie Anthony.
‘The blues come to Texas, loping like a mule,’ Blind Lemon Jefferson sang through a shower of surface noise as he made his recording debut in March 1926. He established the primacy of Texas blues musicians that continued unchallenged for the next 30 years, encompassing the likes of Henry ‘Ragtime’ Thomas, Texas Alexander, T-Bone Walker, Smokey Hogg, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown, Clarence Garlow, Lil’ Son Jackson, Lowell Fulson and Frankie Lee Sims. Other famous musicians recorded when they were passing through Texas, and that included Lonnie Johnson, Walter Davis, The Mississippi Sheiks, Robert Johnson, Roy Brown, Joe Turner, Honeyboy Edwards, Memphis Slim and Jimmy McCracklin.
The blues recording industry began in New York City and for most of the 1920s, musicians travelled from all parts of the country to make their mark in the recording studio. Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey were amongst the most popular female singers but they were soon rivaled by the likes of Lonnie Johnson, Robert ‘Barbecue Bob’ Hicks, Texas Alexander and Mississippi John Hurt. Kansas Joe McCoy cut ‘When The Levee Breaks’, justly famous in its Led Zeppelin incarnation, in the city.
Memphis was the town blues musicians passed through on their way to Chicago. But some of them stayed and the record companies sent their mobile units to record them. Over a three-year period from 1927, an astonishing amount of talent was recorded: local stars like the Memphis Jug Band, Frank Stokes, Cannon’s Jug Stompers, Jim Jackson, Furry Lewis, Robert Wilkins, Bukka White, Memphis Minnie, Joe Callicott and Sleepy John Estes.
People call Chicago The Home Of The Blues. It may not be where the blues came from but it s where the blues came to live. It’s the place where Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Jimmy Reed laid down the songs that inspired the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. The blues was the bedrock on which Jimmy Page created Led Zeppelin, the band that helped to change pop music forever. Chicago was the mecca for Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Elmore James and a host of others who arrived in the city to make their fortune. The process had begun decades earlier, when record companies first came to town.