Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Blues Scholars Give Up Integrity Clinging to Myths

Revisiting Ralph Lembo (click title to open) was published in the ARSC Journal in December 2018. The editor of the ARSC Journal made the decision to publish a response (click to open) from Gayle Dean Wardlow and Ed Komara in July 2019. I have provided both the original article as well as Komara's response here on the MZMF website. Below is my answer.

I originally submitted Revisiting Ralph Lembo in hopes that Ed Komara would be the reader who ARSC Journal editor Sarah Bryan sent it out to upon submission in September 2017. I learned about the revised King of the Delta Blues manuscript in the summer, as he had announced his projected end of the year submission on the RBF Book Forum, a Facebook group once controlled by Ulf Burgenblad. Whereas I expected to learn about some lost cache of research that warranted the book’s revisions, I ended up receiving no notes whatsoever or even a standard letter of recommendation for publication from the peer reviewers. I believe that Komara was the peer reviewer because I only received a request through the editor to cut the following section from the manuscript. It was an important analysis, however, and it’s a good thing that I only moved it to footnote 69:

In another interview with Miller, Wardlow asks another leading question, “Do you think Lembo was honest?” Having listened to Wardlow suggest that he wasn’t so “straight an arrow,” Miller replies, “I don’t think so.” Miller invokes Rev. Thornton’s non-existent royalty suit – not personal experience – to justify his answer. In addition, Wardlow had discussed most of the topics addressed in the taped interview at least once before turning on the recorder. One time, when talking about Rube Lacy, Miller passes off hearsay as a firsthand account. “I think he done mighty well in his musical career,” Miller declared, “and the last I heard from him he was a preacher.” Miller had not spoken with Lacy in decades, however, and a couple of seconds later, Wardlow realizes, “I told you that.” Indeed, the native record collector and his subject discussed several of the topics beforehand, which marred the interview.

To assess the degree to which the problematic testimony of Booker Miller was corrupted, I tried to find evidence of the lawsuit that he claimed Ralph Lembo lost for thousands of dollars. I never found any evidence of a lawsuit over royalties, which proves that the interview is thoroughly corrupted. It was Wardlow himself who advised that I check the courthouse records.

Yet, it’s not mentioned in the response. Komara instead engages in an almost imperceptible method of data manipulation—silencing. He intentionally leaves out that the information gleaned from the Miller interview is tainted. In one paragraph, he writes:

We agree (Komara and Wardlow), as did Wardlow and Calt in 1988, that in early 1929 Lembo met Patton before Speir did and spoke to him about making commercial records. According to…Patton's protege Booker Miller, Lembo did make an offer, which was declined by Patton.

And what reason did Miller claim inspired Patton’s refusal? He said that Patton had heard about Lembo’s theft of royalties from other artists, an assertion that I proved was but one of the numerous fabrications that developed out of the tainted interview with Booker Miller.

The response to "Revisiting Ralph Lembo," in fact, is a carefully constructed deception, which has no place in scholarly practice. As I explain in endnote 69, Wardlow coached Miller before the interview and asked leading questions to get the answers he wanted from him, specifically that Lembo was "tricky" and dishonest and lost a royalty suit for thousands of dollars. Instead of acknowledging that I checked the courthouse records and found no lawsuit, Komara leaves out my stroll into the Greenwood courthouse and my clearing the name of the innocent Italian American talent scout----as Komara should have already done while "updating and revising King of the Delta Blues” (footnote 47 in "Revisiting Ralph Lembo").

Lembo did not have a reputation for dishonesty.

Patton therefore never walked out on him in righteous indignation. And H.C. Speir certainly never drove up to Dockery “just to record some n____r,” as Speir liked to put it. [LINK - This is one example of how a scholar might effectively deploy the meticulously transcribed notes of ethnomusicologist David Evans.] Calt and Wardlow’s King of the Delta Blues, nevertheless, features a lengthy narrative on the first page about Speir driving up to Dockery.[i]

Gayle Dean Wardlow’s first 1966 set of articles in Blues Unlimited, which must have been composed using the notes that Ed Komara claims he wrote to paper after meeting Speir in 1964, reveals that Speir couldn’t “remember many of the names” of the artists he recorded much less their other distinctive qualities. The article does not mention any letter, nor does it mention a drive from Jackson to an audition at Dockery. Wardlow declares only that “Speir made tests of Charley Patton, his wife Bertha Lee, Son House and Willie Brown on recording equipment that he kept on the second floor” of his store on Farish Street.[ii] In one interview, Wardlow allows Speir to answer the question, and he claims that he received a letter from Patton: “Someone had given him my name. Of course, I told him I would pay his expenses to come down, which he did, and I accepted it.”[iii] If Patton sent a letter to Speir, it was almost certainly later in 1933 while working for Tom Robertson and living at Holly Ridge, where Ed Holmes had built a brand-new gas station—complete with gas pumps, tire service, batteries, and postal services.[v]

Komara's letter, therefore, allows me to prove that Wardlow's notes, which he surely used to write his articles in 1966, explain that Patton worked with Speir much later in 1933 or 34.

Thank you Ed Komara.

So the only question is how much damage has been done by Stephen Calt's invented opening fiction in King of the Delta Blues?

First, and perhaps most important, Calt's fiction on the opening page was convincing enough to persuade David Evans. In the article "Wabash Rag: Paramount's Chicago Studios," Alex Van Der Tuuk seems to paraphrase an interview with Rubin Lacy when he writes “Ralph Lembo was not pleased” at the state of affairs in Chicago after encountering “two black men at his recording session who seemed to be in charge.”[ix] No published interview with Lacy contains anything even close to this statement, and upon further examination, there is no statement about Lembo’s reaction to the recording setup in Chicago! The sentence comes from Lacy’s interviewer, David Evans, who believed that he “distinctly” remembered it.”[x] To make such a claim about the reason for the Italian American scout’s unpleasantness, however, we ideally need Rubin Lacy’s exact words about his recording session in Chicago, as well as the question that was asked, not a paraphrased reconstruction of a fifty-year-old memory—no matter how distinct it may seem.[xi] The session being managed by African Americans may have upset Ralph Lembo, but no one would ever learn that from the interviews conducted in Ridgecrest, California.

After reading Ed Komara’s response to “Revisiting Ralph Lembo” in the ARSC Journal, which merely repeats the lies about Lembo from the tainted interviews of Booker Miller, it seems that Wardlow is obsessed with enlisting other scholars to attack the reputation of Ralph Lembo. Indeed, the most egregious of all the scholarly works to obscure the contributions of Ralph Lembo is also the most recent. It is also the most thorough in silencing him from the history of the recording industry in Mississippi. In A&R Pioneers: Architects of American Roots Music on Record, Brian Ward and Patrick Huber allowed the unfavorable review of their manuscript by ethnomusicologist David Evans to greatly affect their judgment and integrity as scholars. Without much scholarship of Evans’ about A&R Pioneers to analyze and attack, the authors contend that the editor of the “American Made Music” series was “rather uncritical of the biography” and the racial attitudes revealed during his only interview with H.C. Speir, an interview dubiously moderated, interrupted, and limited to only questions about the career of Tommy Johnson by Gayle Dean Wardlow.

Huber and Ward could not believe the “willingness of commentators to accept the notion that [Speir] was some kind of iconoclastic blues savant.” I do not know of anyone who has ever seriously examined the evidence, but the narrative that Evans published about his interview with Speir is not problematic precisely because he simply reported the information given by Speir. Wardlow’s interviews with Speir, on the other hand, reveal how he constructed portions of the mythic biography for H.C. Speir to reflect his own adventures as a record collector. Yet, Ward and Huber go out of their way to move the focus of criticism off Wardlow, whose work is treated as inerrant and who, from the beginning, started to shape the idea of H.C. Speir into the “iconoclastic blues savant.” By devoting their analytical effort on criticism of Evans, the authors fail to realize the extent to which Speir’s voice had been misrepresented by Wardlow on tape and in print. As I explain on the pages of ARSC, Gayle Dean Wardlow manipulated his interviews with Speir and other informants, and he had constructed the myth of the “blues savant” first in his imagination, then he and Stephen Calt wrote it down on the pages of their 1988 book King of the Delta Blues, and now he has enlisted Ed Komara to help him continue to push the myth of the iconoclastic blues savant.

Huber and Ward were blind to the motives for creating the myth that they find so disturbing—to ascribe the discovery of Charley Patton to H.C. Speir. These two conclude that “there is no particular reason to challenge Speir’s claim that, in the spring of 1929, he drove out to Dockery Plantation, west of Cleveland, to hear Patton.” Considering that Speir never offers any such statement in any interview, and that all of the initial articles about Speir in the mid-1960s do not mention a drive up to Dockery, I count at least two reasons the authors’ had to question the story of Patton’s discovery by Speir at Dockery. When you add the March 1929 marriage certificate that places Patton at Penton in Tunica County, and the testimony of Tom Rushing, who never knew Patton to live at Dockery, there no reason to believe the story is true at all.

Huber and Ward even go so far as to join in and contribute to the fiction, introducing a new wrinkle into the discovery story of Patton. After learning that Bo Carter may have recommended Blind Joe Reynolds to Speir in 1929, Huber and Ward conclude that the same must have happened for Patton. Having never listened to an important interview with musician Booker Miller, they write that it was “highly likely that Patton had been recommended to Speir.” But it certainly was not.

This episode may explain how Gayle Dean Wardlow managed to insert Bo Carter into his fiction of Charley Patton and H.C. Speir. In one interview with Barry Kerzner, the former managing editor of American Blues Scene, at the 2017 Paramount Festival in Wisconsin, Wardlow expanded his tale before a festival audience:

Turns out that [Speir] heard about Charley Patton from Bo Carter. So, he went up to Dockery Plantation and auditioned Charley Patton…Speir arranged for [Patton] to come to Jackson, and pa[id] his expenses when he got there, [at which time] they put him [Patton] on a train and sent him to Richmond, Indiana for a month, month and a half.”[xii]

There is no evidence that Bo Carter told Speir about Patton. Wardlow has merely started to infuse Bo Carter into the fictional discovery narrative. I suspect that the authors also sympathized with Wardlow’s open and vocal disdain for ethnomusicologist David Evans. The three authors’ penchant for irritating the editor of the “American Made Music” series at the University Press of Mississippi, however, does not add up to any substantive evidence that Bo Carter was discovered by H.C. Speir.

Wardlow’s tainted interview with Booker Miller also managed to stain Lembo’s otherwise amazing working relationship with Booker Washington White in other monographs about the blues. For example, Fred J. Hay, in his 2001 book Goin’ Back to Sweet Memphis: Conversations with the Blues, draws on the tainted interviews of Wardlow in the footnotes of a transcribed interview with White. Even though White only referred to Lembo as the “fellow [who] brought me up here,” Hay decided that “his reputation among blues musicians was not a good one.” Wardlow’s tainted interviews had convinced him that many musicians complained about “being cheated by Lembo.”[xiii]

More recently, in an article based on a 1976 interview with Booker White, David W. Johnson comments in one footnote: “White's description of Ralph Lembo reflects the attitude of an African American musician of his time toward a white producer who he may have thought was exploiting him.” Yet, the footnoted section of the transcribed interview only discusses how Lembo was so proud of him for his performance that he treated him very “nice.”[xiv] White very well may have felt as if he was being exploited, and he may have indeed been exploited, but, considering that African Americans continue to struggle against economic inequality in this country coming up on 2020, a year when the nation may decide to elect a person who approves of such exploitation as president, we might need to admit that our standards are no longer high enough or appropriate to judge what are fair and honest business practices.

We also might admit that the pages of the peer-reviewed ARSC Journal are no longer appropriate for the submissions of serious scholars who seek to restore the good reputations of recording industry pioneers, highlight the irresponsible methods of researchers, or end the destructive feuds of overzealous record collectors. The response from Komara and Wardlow is grounded in unethical and deliberate silences that work to obscure the most important evidence from my published research. Komara should have stopped writing after the second paragraph. Wardlow should have owned his early mistakes, and he should have made amends to the descendants of Ralph Lembo. In truth, had Komara backed up his collaborator and walked into that courthouse, he would have disproved this falsehood long before it became a fifty-year fiction. Instead, Komara never took the time to corroborate the oral histories of Wardlow, essentially setting him up and leaving his published findings vulnerable to future research on every single subject ever addressed in his interviews.


Dr. T. DeWayne Moore
Executive Director of the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, Inc.

[i] Calt and Wardlow, King of the Delta Blues, 11.

[ii] Gayle Dean Wardlow, “Legends of the Lost," Blues Unlimited 31 (March 1966):3-4; 34 (July 1966): 3; 35 (August 1966): 3; 36 (September 1966): 7.

[iii] H.C. Speir, interview by Gayle Dean Wardlow, near the Pearl River, May 18, 1968, [accessed July 31, 2017.]

[iv] Wardlow is always the person to give that information, and Speir shrugs it off with a series of “yeahs” each time; see H.C. Speir, interview by Gayle Dean Wardlow, near the Pearl River, May 18, 1968, [accessed July 31, 2017.]

[v] “Time Has Barely Changed the Holly Ridge store,” The (Indianola, MS) Enterprise Tocsin, June 1, 1978.

[vi] Tom Rushing, interview by David Evans, April 9, 1985, Cleveland, Mississippi.

[vii] Tom Rushing, interview by David Evans, April 9, 1985, Cleveland, Mississippi.

[viii] Charley Patton and Magnolia Hills, marriage certificate, March 10, 1929, Tunica County. Mississippi.

[ix] Alex van der Tuuk, “Wabash Rag: Paramount’s Chicago Studios,” Blues & Rhythm 131 (1998): 6.

[x] David Evans, email to author, July 2, 2017.

[xi] In a letter to the editor of Living Blues, David Evans takes issue with Gayle Dean Wardlow’s reconstruction of quotes from memory regarding Henry Stuckey’s instruction on guitar from fellow soldiers from the Caribbean. The same principle applies to the paraphrased sentence in Van der Tuuk’s article.

[xii] See Barry Kerzner, “Gayle Dean Wardlow Brings Paramount Legacy to Life,” American Blues Scene, Aug 30, 2017, [accessed Aug 10, 2018].

[xiii] Hay, Goin’ Back to Sweet Memphis, 14.

[xiv] Though Brian Ward and Patrick Huber managed to avoid any negative aspersions about Lembo in their recent monograph, A&R Pioneers: Architects of American Roots Music on Record, David W. Johnson inadvertently imposes such a reputation on him in his notes; see, David W. Johnson, “‘Fixin’ to Die Blues’: The Last Months of Bukka White with an afterword from B.B. King on Bukka White’s Legacy,” Southern Cultures 16:3 (Fall 2010): 27, 32.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

T.J. Wheeler's Epic: "All Roads Lead to the Blues" Chapters 1-3

©2007 all rights reserved By TJ Wheeler 

Chapter 1: 
Sunday Jubilee 

Sunday is a day for Church. In the South, for millions of African Americans, Church means Jubilee…a day to rejoice. Fittingly, it was a bright, sunny Memphis morning in early April, 1974. The stifling, sticky humidity was a good month away and the freshness of the spring air seemed to paint a bright smile over the people and the sad streets of Memphis’s inner city. 

Blue and I drove by scores of families, dressed in their proverbial Sunday bests, heading to their local houses’ of worship. Neighbors greeted each other with morning salutations. Church bells rang out, as if singing, “I’m so glad troubles don’t last always”. 

The incongruous sight of a classic World War B52 plane, sitting in the space of a standard 100-foot house lot, made me take a double-take as I slowly cruised down, the pothole, infested roadway. This was Mosby Street, and if my directions were right, I had to be within a few blocks of Country Bluesmen Furry Lewis and Bukka White’s respective houses. On the opposite side of the street from the plane, I noticed a small group of well dressed elderly Black men sitting together on a bench, and a few folding chairs, propped up next to a small brick grocery store. They seemed to be deep in counsel, talking away to each other, in a good-humored, but a heated discussion. Though dressed appropriately, they didn’t seem to be heading to church. It was obvious they weren’t looking to go anywhere, as they certainly, beyond a shadow of a doubt, had arrived. 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Howlin Wolf Remembered in the UK By Former Bandmate

By Dave Kelly 2012

First Impressions

In 1967 I was the lead singer & slide guitarist with The John Dummer Blues Band. We were a working band schlepping up and down motorways of the UK & Europe, earning a living, never going to make a fortune but a group of young men doing what they wanted to do and mostly having fun.

Dave Kelly: vocals & slide guitar

John Dummer: drums

Iain ’Thump’ Thompson: bass guitar

Adrian ‘Putty’ Pietryga; lead guitar

Bob Hall: piano occasionally at gigs near London (Bob was studying to be a lawyer) Looking back I guess we were never going to set the world alight, but we’d always work. We were reasonably accomplished musicians, and not too expensive, also we knew and loved the blues. We were perfect for backing visiting US artists. We later made two tours with John Lee Hooker, and at one time were offered Slim Harpo, but that one never materialized. When our management company rang and asked if we’d heard of Howlin Wolf and would we like to back him, we all jumped at the chance.

The agents who brought these bluesmen over had been in the business a long time, they recognized a fashion or the latest craze and jumped on the bandwagon. I’m sure they, we’ll call them the R T Agency, didn’t have clue who Wolf was or his standing in the blues, other than checking out and a bit of research to see who they could bring over. I remember hearing a story from a promoter who did know his stuff being given a ‘shopping list’ over the phone of artists the agency proposed bringing over.

Agent: "And how much would you be prepared to pay for Sonny Boy Williamson?“

Promoter: "Oh I’d give you a thousand pounds a night for him!"

Agent [ getting excited ] "Really? I’ll get him for you."

Promoter: "You’ll be lucky – he’s been dead three years."

And in some cases that still didn’t stop the agent. I recall there were three West Indian Bluebeat acts simultaneously doing the clubs all purporting to be the same artist.

Anyway this was the real Wolf. The management did the deal – whatever it was, - we were all on wages anyway so it didn’t affect our income, and we were to be Howlin Wolf’s backing band for three weeks around the UK. In actual fact we (our management) never got paid for the tour, luckily Wolf had been paid in advance.

The R T Agency went bankrupt owing us all the fees, apparently, in a court case our management was given custody of his office furniture in lieu of payment. It didn’t affect the band as we were on wages from the management company anyway. Either way Ollie & Tommie Vaughan from the county shires lost some money, which they could probably afford. They went on to become the top presenters and arrangers of upper-class discos during the Debs season, Juliana’s discotheques made a lot of money – nice guys. Hi Ollie & Tommy if you read this.

We were to meet Wolf the day before the first show. A room above a pub had been booked for rehearsal, we set the gear up and awaited the arrival of the great man.

He strolled in with another guy who turned out to be RT’s representative and ‘tour manager’. Wolf was not unfriendly but slightly aloof at first. He was a very commanding figure, well over six feet tall, big build, 300lbs of heavenly joy. And that voice! After introductions and hands being shaken, with ours disappearing into his giant paws, thankfully he wasn’t a ‘bone crusher’ or we wouldn’t be able to play afterward.

“OK lets see what you can do” he said. We’d expected him to call a few songs for rehearsal and that we’d be there all evening getting them right, but he didn’t appear to want to play anything with us at first. We played him a few songs, he nodded and declared that we knew our stuff. “I can see by the way you hold your guitars that you’re musicians “ One of the songs we played in our audition was ‘Dust My Broom’, he said he wanted to do that one in the set. He then took out some harps and blew through the mic directly into the PA system – what a sound. Inside that enormous chest was an equally large pair of lungs. I bet his harps didn’t last very long. We suggested trying a few songs, Smokestack Lightnin being one we really wanted to do, and we knew his stuff pretty well, but he just played a few bars of a twelve-bar, told us to follow him, what to look for, breaks, stops etc and told Tony [JohnDummer] to really hit the backbeat on the snare. That was it, the whole ‘rehearsal’ had taken about one hour. Wolf and Ian the tour manager disappeared downstairs, into Ian’s car leaving us slightly surprised and I was a bit worried as the first gig was the next day, I think it was in Sunderland, 200 miles away in the northeast of England. Well if Wolf wasn’t worried who were we to complain? I didn’t realize it at the time, but he’d just paid us a great compliment.

Baptism by Fire

We drove up in the van to Sunderland, Wolf went with Ian in his car and we met up at the gig in a college gym. The sound was awful, but the crowd was there to see Wolf and just the fact that he was there was enough. I don’t recall exactly what set we played with him at that first show other than it was mainly twelve-bar shuffles and the odd slow blues, no Smokestack, no Killing Floor, no Shake For Me, no Just Like I Treat You, no Going Down Slow, no Spoonful, no Forty Four – just forty-five minutes and off. I remember feeling a bit disappointed and that if I’d been a punter/fan come to see the great man I would have felt a bit shortchanged. Not that Wolf didn’t perform well or put everything into it – he did, but just from the choice of material, not hearing all those classics. However this was early days, we were still feeling each other out, getting a modus operandi. Things definitely got better.

After the show, Wolf gave me some change and told me to go to the bar and get him a whiskey. In 1968 spirits were very expensive in the UK with all the government tax and also served in very small measures, also I’m not sure if Wolf was up to pace yet with the English money, but when I returned with the pathetic single measure of whiskey hardly covering a quarter of an inch in the bottom of the glass and very little change he glared at me said “You been drinking this? Don’t fool with me boy” I assured him that I had carried the glass directly from the bar, hadn’t spilled or drunk any of it, it was just that that’s how they serve whiskey in England, also that I wouldn’t dare ‘fool with him.’ He seemed to accept the explanation and when Ian appeared and confirmed that the pathetic measure was the English way he just laughed that laugh and muttered about getting a hip flask.

I don’t recall all the venues we played over those three weeks or the exact chronology of the ones I do remember but very soon after the start of the tour a couple of guys would be at almost every gig, no matter how far apart We knew they were there because during our own forty-minute set before Wolf came on they would heckle us by every so often shouting out CHESTER (Wolf's real first name). We eventually met them and took them backstage to meet Wolf and they laid off us a bit in our set after that.

It was early in the tour that I suggested to Wolf that we [the band] start his set with a fast shuffle, like one of his early Memphis recordings with Willie Johnson on guitar, Willie Steel playing drums and Ike Turner at the piano. Wolf would stand in the wings whilst over the shuffle I tell the crowd that

“The Wolf is in Your Town – do you wanna see The Wolf ? are you READY for The Wolf?, REALLY READY?” We tried it and it worked very well, getting the crowd up and shouting in response so that the place really erupted as I finally shouted: “Here comes THE WOLF, the great HOWLIN WOLF”. He then walked on stage, blowing his harp to tremendous noise from the crowd. And then things got hotter.

One Saturday night early in the tour we played The University College[I think] London, right in the center of the West End. The place was heaving with about a thousand people in the audience, packed into the hall, there was no room to move, sardines. Wolf connected with the atmosphere immediately and took the gig by the scruff of the neck from the moment he boarded the stage. This was the best gig of the tour. He played for nearly two hours, he used every inch of his body to get his songs across, he howled at the moon, he got on all fours, rolled on his back he rolled his eyes, he worked and worked, and the audience knew they’d been worked over. He was the Tail Dragger, but those tracks were never wiped out, anyone there that night would remember that performance for the rest of their lives – or they got a hole in their soul. Wolf was exhausted, and understandably the next couple of gigs were a bit of an anticlimax but for that one show THANK YOU WOLF FOREVER.

By then the set had expanded and more favorites were appearing. I suppose as we got to know each other and learned to have confidence in what could be achieved, how far we could go out on a limb and mutual trust that we’d all get back safely and together at the end of the song. Wolf was enjoying our company and we certainly enjoyed his. He dispensed with the tour manager and liked to travel with us in the van – a classic rock and roll van, a six-wheel Ford Transit with two rows of bench seats, a bulkhead divider with the amps and the now laughably small PA system in the back, and very probably a nasty smell. He liked to sit in the front and on the way home after a gig would sit next to Chris the roady who was driving and say “ I’m gonna watch you boy, I’ll keep you awake, you start to nod I’m gonna blow my harp. We’d be dozing in the back and sure enough loud wailing harp would disturb our slumber – Wolf thought Chris, or Squoit as he’d call him was getting tired.

During those hours on the road, we all had various conversations with him, some individual, some open to all. He told us he’d been in the UK during the war, he told us he’d met Charlie Patton “ Man what a voice – he was only as big as my prick but he had a great voice”. He told us that Sonny Boy Williamson was his brother in law and had taught Wolf some harp. Also about his club in Chicago, and how he loved Jimmy Reed, but Jimmy would like “too much juice” and sometimes would play Ain’t That Lovin You Baby over and over, until eventually Wolf would have to threaten not to pay him to get him to move on. He did a very funny impression of Jimmy talking whilst in his cups. We talked about the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and other happenings in the States. He expressed certain opinions but didn’t seem to be particularly interested in politics or he wasn’t prepared to expand his thoughts with us.

He was getting bored and lonely sitting in his hotel room in central London, ironically named The White House, I lent him my old Harmony Sovereign guitar to play in his room, which he accidentally trod on, he was so apologetic, but it wasn’t my best guitar. I taped it up on the side of the body where it had split. It was still playable and I pointed out to him that forever I would be able to show off this guitar and say ‘This was played and broken by the great Howlin Wolf’ He laughed but I don’t think that he realized that I was serious.

He said we should come up to the hotel and he’d teach us music theory. He’d paid someone to teach it to him, but he’d teach us for free. We didn’t get to learn much music theory, but he did play Little Red Rooster for us on the as yet intact Harmony.

Trying to explain that although the song went to the D [if in A] quite quickly the slide part played an A on the 12th fret. We played it a few times but I don’t think we ever managed to totally nail the exact feel of the classic recorded version, and as you can see from my explanation of his lesson, I never did get that theory thing together either.

Road Stories

One lunchtime we stopped at a pub for our usual refreshment and a game of darts. This was the late sixties but there was still some animosity toward longhaired weirdo’s as we were perceived in some quarters. There was a crowd of construction workers in the pub who’d just finished for the week and we're getting a bit cut. A few comments were thrown over in our direction, I don’t know if we were taking too long on the dartboard or was it longhaired weirdo’s with a six feet six Black man in their pub.

There was some whispering and a couple of them went out to the car park. When we eventually left we found they’d deflated one of our tires – ho ho very funny. One of the guys came out to go to the toilet which was across the car park, he was obviously very drunk and staggering He came over and slurred ‘Sorry about the tire’, then asked who we were and who was the big guy? We told him he was blues singer called Howlin Wolf – his response - ‘What THE HOWLIN WOLF – I’ve met Howlin Wolf?’ , [very drunk & emotional]. He staggered back into the pub and returned with a couple of his mates and a foot pump. He made them pump up our tire whilst he sobbed Howlin Wolf, I’ve met Howlin Wolf, we’ve let down Howlin fucking Wolf’s fucking tires – oh no!

Most of the audiences were kids about our ages, the early twenties, with the odd older person who would have had the few records of Wolf released in the UK in the late fifties. We played at the Cliffs Ballroom in Bournemouth and that night standing right in front of the stage there was a fellow in his forties, dressed up in the fashion of his youth, a Teddy Boy. In the nineteen fifties the first signs of youthful rebellion in Britain were manifested in The Teddy Boys, so-called because they took their style from the Edwardian era. Long drape jackets with velvet collars, drainpipe trousers, large suede shoes nicknamed brothel creepers, bootlace tie, all topped off with pompadour/Tony Curtis hairdo. In austere post-war Britain, these popinjays caused outrage and uproar in the press, etc and so they duly obliged by ripping up cinema seats during the first screenings of Rock Around The Clock and The Girl Can’t Help It. They were made for Rock & Roll, Rock & Roll was made for them. This chap obviously felt that having Howlin Wolf come to Bournemouth justified getting the old suit out of the closet. He loved the concert and I searched him out after the show as I thought he deserved to come and meet The Wolf, he was knocked out to meet his hero and Wolf chatted to him for some time. Oh, by the way, this Teddy Boy was now a bank manager.

On one trip with Wolf in the van with us we had a couple of shows in the north, the tour manager had long disappeared – well if Wolf wanted to travel in a smelly van why pay a driver and car hire no doubt thought the lovely Mr. T. They also had stopped booking hotels for Wolf apart from the London base. Our roady Chris Sladdin

Came from near Lincoln in the northeast. He lived in London having come down for college but his parents still lived in a nice semi-detached house on the edge of the town. It made sense to stay in the area and Chris’ parents were away on holiday, so we headed off to their house after the show. Wolf was given the master bedroom whilst we spread ourselves around the house for the night. Wolf’s comment was “ I didn’t know you had a nice house like this – I thought you were a hippy” The next day was Sunday and Chris said we’d go down to the Ferry Boat Inn on the river for Sunday Lunch. So the five long-haired weirdo's and the six-foot-six inches African American headed to the very genteel middle-class pub for Sunday lunch. Wolf was a bit nervous, he was comfortable with us, but then we were musicians. This pub was very middle class and very white. He was soon put at rest, Chris knew the landlord as a Rotary Club pal of his Dad. He told him all about the tour and how famous Wolf was and the landlord marched across the pub, shook Wolf by the hand and said Good Morning Mr. Wolf we’re very proud to ‘ave you in our pub. I ‘ope this lot are looking after you well – would you like a whiskey?

During the tour, my sister Jo-Ann, I and the band had organized a concert at our regular Sunday afternoon blues session at the Studio 51, Ken Colyer’s Jazz Club. These sessions were started about seven years earlier by another group of young longhaired wierdo’s with no regular gig, called The Rolling Stones. Jo-Ann took me down there one Sunday in the early sixties. It cost 3 shillings entrance [15 pence UK or 10 cents US in today’s money] and the Stones played three 45 minute sets between 2.00 and 5.00pm.

A friend suggested that we [The Dummer Band] resurrect these sessions when we were looking for somewhere to play. After we left they continued well into the seventies with various other outfits.

However, this particular concert was a benefit to raise money for one of our heroes who were not in the best of health and living in a nursing home in Memphis. The great Memphis Minnie. We had promises from John Mayall, Mick Taylor, Alexis Korner,

Paul Kossof & Andy Fraser from Free, plus all the usual suspects that they would turn up and play for nothing to raise money for Minnie. We told Wolf about it and he said he’d try to get down. Bob Hall was running a reel to reel, recording the whole afternoon and I remember Jo Ann and I were singing with a collection of massed musicians behind us, when on the tape for no apparent reason the audience erupted. Yes, Wolf had just walked in and made his way to the front of the stage. He got up and played three or four numbers to a spellbound audience before wandering out into the London evening and presumably a cab back to his hotel.

We raised £150 for Minnie. It doesn’t sound much these days but I know it helped her in back in Memphis. We sent the money to a Memphis Jazz Buff who organized a presentation with some press and a boogie piano player. I have a tape of the event with Minnie managing a slightly strangled sounding ‘Thankya’ The only drag about our event is that the tape of the whole afternoon, including Wolf’s performance, has disappeared.

There were not shows every night and I guess nights off would hang heavy on Wolf’s shoulders. None of us had houses at the time, I lived in a one room bed sit with my girlfriend at that time, but I know Bob Hall, who was older than the rest of us, and by then married, invited Wolf to dinner at his home. Toward the end of the tour Wolf was obviously getting homesick, but what better to inspire a blues singer. One night in Leicester he sang the most moving spine-tingling version of ‘Did I Hurt Your Feelings, I Didn’t Mean To Do You No Wrong’. Over the tour he had on occasions told us that we played too loud, but he was generally happy with where and what we played. However on this particular performance he’d gone out into the audience of young students, he had them sit on the floor whilst he on one knee pleaded the song to his wife, who I know he’d phoned earlier in the day. He just waived his hand back at us onstage meaning ‘down’ any lick or fill attempted by any of us was met with that glare. We obeyed, got quieter and quieter, played less and less whilst the master gave a master-class in blues feeling, less is more. I was shaking at the end of that song, I had been privileged to be involved in a magical moment, some girls in the audience had tears in their eyes. (I have now re-reading this) I’ve seen some greats, but I’ve never seen a performance like that before or since. THANK YOU WOLF.

Bad Vibes

Only two really. One night we played the 10pm slot at The Flamingo Club in Soho London. The Flamingo Club was mainly a soul venue or West Indian Ska/Bluebeat gig, depending on who was booked or who the DJ was for the all-night disco after the live act. We had been booked on a Ska/Bluebeat night so the place was heaving with cool hip young West Indians. Wolf was definitely up for it, this was the first black venue we’d played. Of course, these hip young dudes were there for the disco, they’d never heard of Howlin Wolf and couldn’t care less about the Blues. We came off stage and Wolf laid into us, that we’d played badly and let him down, witness the lack of response from the audience. The one show where he played to what he called ‘my people’ and it had failed. I said Wolf they’re not ‘your people’ they’re West Indians and they don’t know blues music, they’ve come for the Ska later on. Then first time he ever got angry with us, he glared at me, face in my face and said: “ Don’t tell me how to play to coons, I’m a coon myself.” I was shocked at his terminology also a bit scared at having 300lbs of heavenly joy turn into 300lbs of angry Wolf. I left the dressing room and got on with the load out. As I’d expected all was fine the next day and the topic wasn’t raised again.

Earlier in the tour, we played at The Speakeasy Club in central London. This was where the ‘In Crowd’ hung out, journalists, musicians, faces, aristocrats, liggers, jammers, and poseurs, etc. You had to be ‘someone’ to get in there. The night we played it many musos were in, Lowell Fulson was in town and came and said hi to Wolf. The first set went OK, Lowell got up and played guitar on a couple of numbers, some young black guitar wiz kid got up and started to wail and fill every hole and even some places which weren’t holes with about 100 notes per minute. Fulson turned around and shouted in his ear ”Shut up, it’s his [Wolf’s] song, not yours”. Thankfully the guy was shamed into getting off the stage. We took a break and I don’t know if Wolf had too many whiskeys bought for him by the admiring back slapping punters, but it was obvious something was wrong at the start of the second set. From bad to worse, Wolf decided he was going to play guitar. He turned round to me and beckoned me closer “Gimme your guitar son” I thought it wasn’t a good idea and said something like “Are you sure Wolf ?” He began to lose it so I complied, not wishing to have a row on stage. As I handed it over I said it’s in Open E tuning “You don’t have to tell me what tuning it’s in he growled” and then sat down and proceeded to play standard chords on a guitar in open tuning. This did not make for cool music. I felt for my colleagues up there on stage trying to decide which key to follow in, they did their best, trying to turn his amp down, trying to hold it together in some way but it was a lost cause.

Ian the tour manager was still on the scene at that time and I saw him sitting up on some higher seats back in the gloom. I jumped up next to him and said “Ian get him off. He’s blowing it” Ian said I think he’s really cool, the music is grooving. I pleaded “Ian it’s not grooving it’s a shambles” then he replied, “Please go away, leave me alone I’m not Ian and I’m tripping”. – Poor guy, maybe that was the best way to hear that particular set, oh and he was quite right – it wasn’t Ian.

Predictably in the music press, the debacle was reported, - what a shame that these visiting artists are given young inexperienced bands who can’t back them properly and ruin their music, etc. etc. That one hurt. I have since been told that Peter Green was in the audience and was arguing on our behalf with a couple of DJ’s. He’d understood the situation.


I was playing a show in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2001 and a guy came up to me afterward and said he’d seen me in The Dummer Band in 1969 backing Howlin Wolf at The Free Trade Hall Manchester. Yes, great times I responded. I said what a pleasure and honor it had been to play with him, my only regret was that I had no photos of the tour. I suppose when you’re young you think it goes on forever like this and record taking photographically doesn’t enter your head. He said he didn’t have any photos, but he wanted to know if I would like a CD of the concert? Gobsmacked! Remember this was 1969 – no mini-disk, even before cassettes. He’d taken his reel to reel into the venue, plugged it into the wall socket and sat there with his mic held high above his head. Thankfully stewards in those days were not aware of copyright, bootlegs, etc. and he got the whole set with Wolf. He’s cleaned the recording up a bit and the large hall has a large reverb, but you can still hear most of what you want to hear.

Hearing that music again brought it all flooding back. This concert was near the end of the tour, but we still never knew what Wolf was going to play next. He often started a number and we’d fall in at appropriate times. He starts the concert playing the riff on his harp to Somebody Walking In My Home, the band come in then Wolf sings Smokestack Lightnin over the other riff – it’s great. Then onto Dust My Broom. When I first heard the CD I was surprised how straight I played the slide riff, and the music took me back thirty-two years (now 50) to the second night of the tour and Wolf saying to me “When we play Dust My Broom you just play that Elmore piece, don’ play nuttin’ else, jus’ that riff” OK Wolf –lesson one, less is more.

We played an eight-bar in the vein of ‘It Hurts Me Too’ and it wasn’t totally apparent what the sequence was from the harp intro, so for a while, I’m following Wolf with the slide whilst the other guy's soldier on with a twelve-bar, but it soon gets together. I listened to this CD in awe and not without some pride as Wolf gives me more and more solo choruses shouting encouragement “ Play it son” “Get the feeling” etc.

We played Spoonful……..…….

Freddy King had been brought over by the same agency and had been backed by some friends of ours called Killing Floor, who numbered Rod De‘Ath on drums and Lou Martin on piano, later to join Rory Gallagher. The backstage banter and rivalry between Freddy and Wolf was entertaining. I got the impression that Freddy had at some time been in Wolf’s band. I don’t think he ever recorded with Wolf and I may have misunderstood, however it was agreed that Freddy would come out and play with us behind Wolf on the final encore of the night. Wolf counted in a slow blues, Freddy started with the most beautiful, tasteful, emotional intro, Wolf shouts to him “Get it again”, so Freddy starts another sequence, about eight bars in Wolf starts a fresh sequence on the harp, Freddy immediately drops in at the top of the sequence, the performance is good, Wolf and Freddy in friendly but apparent rivalry. The music continues and just getting geared up for a searing heart-wrenching solo from Freddy when the song fades. I rang the guy and asked if he’d send me the rest of the music – he couldn’t. His machine had run out of tape halfway through the finale. Oh well.

After the show both artists and bands went for a meal, Freddy proclaimed that he’d buy the drinks if Wolf paid for the food, Freddy thought this arrangement was very amusing, Wolf later told me that he’d was aware that he’d been taken a bit but he went along with the arrangement as he had more money than Freddy anyway. Later, sitting down next to him, he made the comment, “anyway I’m better looking than him, what kind of figure is that for a man? Look he’s got tits, man he should wear a brassiere.” This comment finished with him leaning over grabbing my knee whilst shaking with laughter which would start somewhere in his stomach and then build up through his whole body till he and anyone in the vicinity was also swept up in the joke.

What was truly gratifying about hearing us actually playing with Wolf all those years ago, particularly in light of The Speakeasy disaster, is how very good we were at backing him. I can’t think of anyone who could have done a better job, under the circumstances.


Soon after receiving the CD I heard from another fan that he had photos of that tour and have now received some visual documentation – God we were young!

Then I was sent a video containing Wolf with the sublime Hubert Sumlin on lead guitar playing on the American Festival of the Blues in Germany 1964. Wolf steals the show. His ability to dig deep into his soul and tap into that vein of emotion and then produce it out through his voice, no, through his whole being is a wonderful, beautiful talent

Wolf was a gentle giant, but not to be messed with, he took a paternal interest in his young backing group, ‘don’t smoke that shit – it’ll kill ya’. He was in some ways naive but also a sophisticated man, complex, a bit like the rest of us I guess. I am extremely proud and grateful to have been associated with such a master.

Finally, I had a tax inspection recently. The inspector who looked to be in his early sixties came to my house peered through my accounts, asked the usual questions, then lightened up a bit. “What sort of music do you play then ?” When I replied ‘blues’ he said “What like Howlin Wolf ?” The inspection went very well.