Category Archives: Music Researcher

Angie Interviews Family About Paramount Talent Scout

Interview About Paramount Talent Scout and Salesman Harry Charles

Phone interview with Harry Charles Jr. (HC) born in 1924 and Jeanne Kingsford (JK) born in 1927.  Conducted by Angela Mack (AM) 12/10/06 (not recorded)

AM: This is Angela Mack from Grafton, WI. I am very glad that we were able to be connected. I am wondering if I can type out our conversation today for historical purposes.

HC: Sure, before we begin, my sister reminded me that he wrote a 10 to 12 autobiography. Jean still has it. We grew up with our father in Birmingham, Alabama.

normal_harry charles

AM: How did he get to become a talent scout?

HC: I was too young to remember. But he told me stories. He said that he found talent to take them to Chicago. I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure that it was Chicago. I remember one time my mother and father took me to New York City. He had business there for a week. I have a feeling that it had to do with that kind of business. I was just too young, but I remember how bored I was. We stayed in an apartment.

JK: I do have copies of copy writes of songs with the names of the songs and the artists but I don’t remember what is on them.

AM: What do they look like?

JK: They look like little note cards (about 2×3 or 4). I have 6 to 8 of those. I have one copy of some sheet music that he wrote. It was published by EE Forbes in Birmingham. He worked for them.

AM: What kind of company was EE Forbes?

JK: A piano company.

HC: They handled the distribution of Paramount records in this part of the country. Our mother worked there too. Her name is Kathleen Staples.

AM: What sort of work did she do?

HC: She was a sales clerk. She sold the records and sheet music.

JK: Dad was in collections when he first started.

HC: Fundamentally he was a salesman. Later in his years he had a successful piano and organ company.

JK: It was even called Harry Charles Piano Company. It was in Birmingham on 1st ave.

HC: Prior to that, he rented space in a furniture store and put pianos in there on the 2nd floor. The first one that he had burned down. He had about 30 pianos on the 2nd floor. He had 29 in one room. There was one piano on display and somebody burned them all.

AM:Did he play piano?

HC: He wouldn’t know one note from another! (laughing)…..but he WAS a salesman.
He even opened a store to sell refrigerators. When he had the piano company, he was on radio and television advertising for his company. He used talent from churches to play and sing and preach on the program. Finally he had a very big show at the auditorium. He rented the municipal auditorium. You still have flyers from that with the date on them, don’t you Jean?

JK: Yes.

HC: He invited all of the colored churches to send their choirs down to sing. It was amazing. He advertised that he had a 1,000 voices. I’m not sure if it was that many but it was big. He filled the stage with the choirs.

AM: Did you see that show?

HC: Yes. He was very friendly everyone knew him. Many people are even named after him in this area.

HC: One little anecdote is that on Pearl Harbor day, he had all 3 radio stations in Birmingham giving his advertisement. The announcement interrupted his sales shpeal.

AM: I bet that upset him.

JK: No, he was very patriotic. He wasn’t upset at all.

AM: I am assuming that your father was Caucasian. It sounds like he got along well with the African American community.

JK: He had a good report with the African American community. They loved his southern accent. I think it was because of his accent. He was everybody’s friend.

HC: He was very charismatic and it came across on his commercials.

AM: Did you ever meet any of the musicians?

HC: Yes. He had one group sing on his show. There was a woman by the name of RJ Pope who was a phenomenal singer.

AM: Was she African American?

HC: Yes. There was a group singing with her. He ran commercials non stop. They were 15 minute commercials. He would talk as if he was in the piano store. He would say, “On this piano we have such and such and on this piano we have such and such.” He would go from one piano to another. Our mother played the piano.

AM: Did you meet RJ Pope?

HC: Oh sure I did. I met RJ Pope. She was completely confident. She ruled the roost. JK: She was the boss of the singers (choir).

HC: I remember there was a male singer who got invited to sing on the show. RJ Pope didn’t like him. It was competition for her.

AM: Tell me more about his commercials.

HC: He had live commercials that were 15 minutes each on all 3 stations. It was impromptu. He made it up as he went along. He did this for about 10 years.

AM: What years did he own the piano company?

HC: Roughly 1940 to 1979. During the later years, he switched to TV commercials.
He had radio commercials until TV became popular.

AM: Did he have artists play on his TV commercials?

HC: He did not usually have artists go on the TV commercials.

JK: Not the kind that you are looking for.

HC: They sold Kimbel pianos and Kimbel would send some talent.

JK: They sold used pianos of all kinds.

HC: Gulbransen was the name of the piano manufacture.

AM: What years was he a talent scout?

HC: It was 1925 to 1930 as my guess. I know that he was done by 1931.

AM: What did he do after that?

HC: Well, this was a very difficult time, the Great Depression. It was very tough. He did nothing because it was the depression. The conditions that we lived in…..well, we lived in a very poor place. Yet he would buy a crate of eggs for $5 whole sell and try to sell them. He would go door to door.

AM: So he was still selling.

HC: He used to say, “If you can read the classified ads, you can make a living.” He was born in 1900. Me and my brother who is now deceased were involved in the piano company. I helped in the piano store that he had in the 2nd World War. He bought a recording machine and recorded wives (1942) to give to husbands in military. Those were metal records. I know that because I used to run the recording machine.

AM: Where did he get it?

HC: I have no idea.

AM: What ever happened to it?

HC: I don’t know.

AM: What did it look like?

HC: It was a turntable. It shed tiny slivers of metal as it turned around. It didn’t have a needle.

AM: Do you have any metal records, records from that era, or records with white labels on them?

JK: No records. We just arrived at my brother’s house. Could we call you back tomorrow? I will look into some of these things and get back to you.

HC: One last thing, in Birmingham when he did all of the commercials on TV, we used channel 6. I bet that they may have recordings of these. I do know that we recorded them. Channel 6 is still in existence.

AM: Did he record his radio commercials?

HC: I don’t think so. I think they were just impromptu and never recorded.

Updated Tuesday, December 19, 2006

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Angie Assists Russian Author in Writing The Coming of Blues

To my knowledge,the book The Coming of Blues by Valery Pisigin is only available in Russian.  I assisted Valery during the writing of his book.  He and an interpreter met with me several years ago.  He graciously sent me copies.  However, because the books are in Russian, I haven’t been able to read them.   Luba Rohrback was able to read the book and translate some of it to me this week.  Here is a recording of the partial translation used with her permission.

 

Valery also recorded me playing the piano on my early 1900s upright.

valery-pisigin-blues-russia

Flowers for Blind Blake’s Grave from Detroit Michigan

Hi Angie,

A few years ago, my oldest brother stumbled on an article from OnMilwaukee.com with your journal entries on finding Blind Blake’s grave. He sent it to me and told me to read it, which of course I did. Our dad raised him, me, and my other brother on the blues, so we have an attachment and respect for anything like this.

To make a very long story short, we did a Mississippi Blues Trail road trip last summer with our mom that took us from Tupelo to Indianola to Memphis to St. Louis, and we planned one for this past weekend in the Chicago area. We made a trek up to Milwaukee specifically to see Blind Blake’s grave. We were actually concerned that we weren’t going to make it in because the hours online said it was closed Saturday and Sunday (thankfully that was just the office hours).

We found it on Sunday tucked away in the back corner past the infant section, starting to get overgrown. But that was the reason we brought gardening tools on this trip. Like your journal says, that entire section is so hard to navigate. We cleaned it up and placed some flowers on top and were happy to see other trinkets have been left.

I attached the picture we took on Sunday; I thought you’d appreciate seeing it. I also wanted to thank you for your searching and dedication and the fact that you got him a headstone so blues fans can come and pay their respects. Honestly, if it wasn’t for you, your team, and your research, we wouldn’t have even gone to Milwaukee on this trip. It was definitely something special—and something I’m not going to forget anytime soon.

Regards,

Christina Lazzara, Detroit Michigan

2006: Angie Interviews About Paramount Talent Scout and Salesman Harry Charles

Phone interview with Harry Charles Jr. (HC) born in 1924 and Jeanne Kingsford (JK) born in 1927.  Conducted by Angela Mack (AM) 12/10/06 (not recorded)  Originally published on paramountshome.org and then https://ozaukeetalent.com (both Angie’s websites)

AM: This is Angela Mack from Grafton, WI. I am very glad that we were able to be connected. I am wondering if I can type out our conversation today for historical purposes.

HC: Sure, before we begin, my sister reminded me that he wrote a 10 to 12 autobiography. Jean still has it. We grew up with our father in Birmingham, Alabama.

normal_harry charles

AM: How did he get to become a talent scout?

HC: I was too young to remember. But he told me stories. He said that he found talent to take them to Chicago. I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure that it was Chicago. I remember one time my mother and father took me to New York City. He had business there for a week. I have a feeling that it had to do with that kind of business. I was just too young, but I remember how bored I was. We stayed in an apartment.

JK: I do have copies of copy writes of songs with the names of the songs and the artists but I don’t remember what is on them.

AM: What do they look like?

JK: They look like little note cards (about 2×3 or 4). I have 6 to 8 of those. I have one copy of some sheet music that he wrote. It was published by EE Forbes in Birmingham. He worked for them.

AM: What kind of company was EE Forbes?

JK: A piano company.

HC: They handled the distribution of Paramount records in this part of the country. Our mother worked there too. Her name is Kathleen Staples.

AM: What sort of work did she do?

HC: She was a sales clerk. She sold the records and sheet music.

JK: Dad was in collections when he first started.

HC: Fundamentally he was a salesman. Later in his years he had a successful piano and organ company.

JK: It was even called Harry Charles Piano Company. It was in Birmingham on 1st ave.

HC: Prior to that, he rented space in a furniture store and put pianos in there on the 2nd floor. The first one that he had burned down. He had about 30 pianos on the 2nd floor. He had 29 in one room. There was one piano on display and somebody burned them all.

AM:Did he play piano?

HC: He wouldn’t know one note from another! (laughing)…..but he WAS a salesman.
He even opened a store to sell refrigerators. When he had the piano company, he was on radio and television advertising for his company. He used talent from churches to play and sing and preach on the program. Finally he had a very big show at the auditorium. He rented the municipal auditorium. You still have flyers from that with the date on them, don’t you Jean?

JK: Yes.

HC: He invited all of the colored churches to send their choirs down to sing. It was amazing. He advertised that he had a 1,000 voices. I’m not sure if it was that many but it was big. He filled the stage with the choirs.

AM: Did you see that show?

HC: Yes. He was very friendly everyone knew him. Many people are even named after him in this area.

HC: One little anecdote is that on Pearl Harbor day, he had all 3 radio stations in Birmingham giving his advertisement. The announcement interrupted his sales shpeal.

AM: I bet that upset him.

JK: No, he was very patriotic. He wasn’t upset at all.

AM: I am assuming that your father was Caucasian. It sounds like he got along well with the African American community.

JK: He had a good report with the African American community. They loved his southern accent. I think it was because of his accent. He was everybody’s friend.

HC: He was very charismatic and it came across on his commercials.

AM: Did you ever meet any of the musicians?

HC: Yes. He had one group sing on his show. There was a woman by the name of RJ Pope who was a phenomenal singer.

AM: Was she African American?

HC: Yes. There was a group singing with her. He ran commercials non stop. They were 15 minute commercials. He would talk as if he was in the piano store. He would say, “On this piano we have such and such and on this piano we have such and such.” He would go from one piano to another. Our mother played the piano.

AM: Did you meet RJ Pope?

HC: Oh sure I did. I met RJ Pope. She was completely confident. She ruled the roost. JK: She was the boss of the singers (choir).

HC: I remember there was a male singer who got invited to sing on the show. RJ Pope didn’t like him. It was competition for her.

AM: Tell me more about his commercials.

HC: He had live commercials that were 15 minutes each on all 3 stations. It was impromptu. He made it up as he went along. He did this for about 10 years.

AM: What years did he own the piano company?

HC: Roughly 1940 to 1979. During the later years, he switched to TV commercials.
He had radio commercials until TV became popular.

AM: Did he have artists play on his TV commercials?

HC: He did not usually have artists go on the TV commercials.

JK: Not the kind that you are looking for.

HC: They sold Kimbel pianos and Kimbel would send some talent.

JK: They sold used pianos of all kinds.

HC: Gulbransen was the name of the piano manufacture.

AM: What years was he a talent scout?

HC: It was 1925 to 1930 as my guess. I know that he was done by 1931.

AM: What did he do after that?

HC: Well, this was a very difficult time, the Great Depression. It was very tough. He did nothing because it was the depression. The conditions that we lived in…..well, we lived in a very poor place. Yet he would buy a crate of eggs for $5 whole sell and try to sell them. He would go door to door.

AM: So he was still selling.

HC: He used to say, “If you can read the classified ads, you can make a living.” He was born in 1900. Me and my brother who is now deceased were involved in the piano company. I helped in the piano store that he had in the 2nd World War. He bought a recording machine and recorded wives (1942) to give to husbands in military. Those were metal records. I know that because I used to run the recording machine.

AM: Where did he get it?

HC: I have no idea.

AM: What ever happened to it?

HC: I don’t know.

AM: What did it look like?

HC: It was a turntable. It shed tiny slivers of metal as it turned around. It didn’t have a needle.

AM: Do you have any metal records, records from that era, or records with white labels on them?

JK: No records. We just arrived at my brother’s house. Could we call you back tomorrow? I will look into some of these things and get back to you.

HC: One last thing, in Birmingham when he did all of the commercials on TV, we used channel 6. I bet that they may have recordings of these. I do know that we recorded them. Channel 6 is still in existence.

AM: Did he record his radio commercials?

HC: I don’t think so. I think they were just impromptu and never recorded.

Updated Tuesday, December 19, 2006

2005: Angie Interviews Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt Descendant

Contact angie@ozaukeetalent.com

Exclusive Interview with Angie Mack Reilly 

Date:  6/17/05 by phone

Name: Fred Bolden
Born: 1951 Boston, Massachusetts
Retired police officer

A: How are you related to Skip James?
F: Skip married my second cousin (my mother’s first cousin). He’s related by marriage. Skip’s wife’s name was Lorenzo Hurt. I’m really a Hurt.

A: How are you related to Mississippi John Hurt?
F: He’s my grand uncle. (My grandfather’s brother)

A: Do you remember meeting Skip James for the first time?
F: Oh sure….Oh sure….I’ll never forget that…down at Newport. You see, Son House got drunk and was supposed to play that gig in 1964. (Newport Blues Festival) I remember that like yesterday. Skip was so nervous….so nervous…..[laughing] Skip was so nervous that he was shaking like the leaves on a tree.

Reverend Robert Wilkins had to calm him down. He was a performer also. Ever heard of Bob Dylan? He was there, too. Tom Huskins almost threw him out. Howlin’ Wolf was there. They called the tent “Bluesville”. Skip and Misssissippi Fred McDonald were really nervous. When he got on stage that was the highlight of his career. He did this little thing with his left hand. Then he sang, “I’d rather be the devil than to be that woman’s man…..” He did it in that falsetto that sent chills up and down my back. It still does today. The crowd just went wild. He did about 4 or 5 songs.

The highlight of his whole career was the Newport Festival. There were thousands there. I was fascinated by the microphones that picked up his sound. I still have dreams about it. I never saw anything like that before, you know. He had on a preacher’s hat…black, winged tip shoes, a jacket, and a rectangular button with “KIN” on it….meaning he was a performer. That meant that you were part of the staff or a performer.

A: Was Son House there?
F: No. [laughing] Dick Waterman took him somewhere to sleep it off….probably Freebody Park.

A: Who taught Skip how to play?
F: I think Skip taught himself. But there was Little Brother Montgomery and an unknown guy….Henry Stuckey. And don’t forget during WWI, they were in Jackson, Mississippi and he met my Uncle Mississippi John Hurt. I think it’s from my Uncle’s influence. My Uncle used to hang out down there.

A: You mentioned that he didn’t like playing other people’s songs……….
F: That’s right.

A: Do you think it’s because he couldn’t play them?
F: No. No. And I’ll tell you why. You know why? He said, “I can play all those songs, but I want to do my own thing.” Skip said that to me, because we were sitting in the living room. We used to sit in the living room all of the time. He, Lorenzo, and I. I asked him once to play C.C. Rider. He said, “That’s Mississippi John Hurt’s song…….”

A: You said that Son House came to your house and played. What did he play?
F: Well, yes….I remember him and John Hurt doing one song, Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Blind Snake Moan”. They got really tore up. They were drinking that blues. Son House did “Preaching Blues”….it’s one of my favorites. … and there’s “Empire State Blues…” He used to work for that railroad. It’s about the Empire State Railroad.

A: What do you remember about Skip’s personality?
F: He was quite….almost mysterious……full of spirits….He could be both…..He could be lively…..Down in Newport…..he was so nervous….he was scared $#@less. [laughing] That’s probably the quietest I ever seen him. He could rub people the wrong way. But I was on his good side. I never gave him any argument. I tell you the truth, he liked those %$#@houses and drank a lot. He didn’t drink too much at his house when I was there, though. Not like my Uncle John. My Uncle John always had a pint on him even when he was playing. I asked my mom as a young kid what that was. She said, “It gave him the spirit”……[laughing]

A: What made him mad?
F: Yes….there was a young 17 year old kid with a guitar. He said, “Skip, I learned how to play a song just like you play it….” Skip got mad and said, “I done been and gone from places you’ll never get to……” He got mad all of the time…..in conversation…yeah….like….those guys that found him. They were handling him for awhile. Skip was mad at John Fahey because they took his money and were squandering it at his expense. So Skip got away from them. He said, “They took my money and squandered it.” A lot of those guys they rediscovered….they embroiled them in money problems. The rediscovered blues guys felt cheated. They had no way of assessing what they were really worth. They weren’t prepared to be rediscovered and didn’t know how to deal with it. So they didn’t deal with it well.

When they found Skip in the hospital, he didn’t remember anything. He had to be taught again by blues enthusiasts who mastered his licks.

A: What made him sad?
F: He was a hard hearted man. He had a heart like stone.

A: Did he ever tell any stories?
What kind of stories?

A: Any.

F:  Oh sure…..A lot of stuff he did when he was a young guy….his travels to Texas. (Austin or Dallas?) He said, “With money you can see and buy anything you want”. He told me the story how he got rediscovered. Bill Barth, Henry Vestine, and John Fahey. John went on to be famous, you know. They found Skip in Tunica, Mississippi in the hospital there. A couple of other guys were looking for Son House and they found Son and Skip on the same day. Can you believe that? They came into the hospital and played Skip’s record from the Grafton days.

I did talk to Skip about the Depression. He had to eat at the soup kitchens. Yeah, he went back to his parents. Most black people were hit hard back then and fared the worst I’m afraid.

A: Where did his dad live?
F: I think Bentonia, Mississippi. That’s the place you want to go. Skip had a school down there. He had several musicians down there who were influenced by him and played a lot like him……some great guitar players down there who recorded there.

A: What can you tell me about Skip parents?
F: No…..I tell you the truth…..It’s really really really mysterious……I didn’t think to ask him….I didn’t know how famous he was. I thought he was a regular. He had a lot of recognition. There was a lot written about him.

They [Skip and Lorenzo] had an adopted son named Bobby. I didn’t get along too good with him. He was a homosexual and he tried to hit on me….right there in Skip’s house. I haven’t seen Bobby since 1969 or 1970

A: You mentioned a notebook of songs that Skip had…….Do you know where it is?
F: Skip and his wife are both dead. I don’t know where it is. They let me have his bedroom when I stayed there. I was there for Thanksgiving and Christmas, you know. They were both very nice. His old notebook had all of his songs in it neatly written.

A: Did it have the chords written in it?
F: Oh no. I don’t think Skip could read music. I don’t think any of those guys could.

A: Where was Skip’s home?
F: Philadelphia. I don’t know whatever happened to that house. I’m sure they sold it or something.

A: You said you spent a lot of time in Skip James’ home? What was it like?
F: I was a young teenager then when I visited there. I would visit my other relatives there. He let me take his guitar out. He let me take his guitar to my mother’s cousins.

Eric Clapton bought the house…it was a really nice house….it really was…Clapton bought him the house because he took one of Skip’s songs “I’m So Glad”. He wanted to compensate for it. Eric Clapton wanted to give something back.

The kitchen was very, very clean….long table in the kitchen. Skip’s room was nice and tidy. They liked me so much that they led me have their room. The furniture was very old fashioned from the early 20’s and 30’s.

A: Did he ever make any meals for you?
F: Lorenzo did the cooking. Skip liked ham hocks, cornbread (the real flaky kind), and collared greens, and chitins.

A: Did Skip always want to do music?
F: He wanted to become a minister when he was young. But he had this thing with the blues. Times were hard…..he wasn’t going to get anywhere singing the blues. He knew that. I think his father was a minister. He went to some sort of seminary or religious school and became a minister.

A: Did Skip ever preach to you?
F: Every time I sat down with them for dinner, we had to recite a Bible verse. One time we were there. One of his friends came and Skip really yelled at him because he didn’t know a Bible verse. I have seen him step on a lot of toes and hurt a lot of people’s feelings. One time, when he was in Philadelphia, he played at a place called the “2nd Fret” ( a coffee house). He most frequently played there. He got on stage and preached a lot. But that turned people off. I’m telling you the truth, there would only be 5 or 6 people there. Can you imagine that for Skip James? His preaching turned a lot of people off.

A: So why did he quit for 30-35 years after his Paramount Recordings?
F: It was the Depression. What Skip was doing in 1930’s wasn’t selling. He went to seminary school after Grafton. Grafton was the only place that he recorded.

A: After Grafton, he was missing. It’s was really a mystery. What was doing? Where did he live?
F: Skip told me that he became a born again Christian. He became a minister for a while then. He sang gospel music and traveled with a gospel group. When he traveled with those caravans (those young people), he probably got a better reception.

You see, can I tell you something? Dick Waterman was Son House’s manager and Mississippi’s manager. Son would try to find the nearest liquor store and get lost. So Dick dropped him off at our house once.

Bob Dylan was at our house in 1964 because my uncle had played at the Café Yana. My uncle had 5 nights sold out. My father and mother threw a party for him to celebrate….along with all of the patrons. Bob Dylan was there. I thought he was going to play. He was with some girl. He was hiding in our house making out with that girl. [laughing] I had to go to the bathroom and get passed him and that girl. This was in February 1964. This was just before the Beatles invaded America.

A: Did Skip ever teach you anything about God?
F: Not that I can remember.

A: Skip used to wake you up on Sundays with church songs. What songs did he play? Where did he go to church?

F: “What a Friend We have in Jesus”, “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”, “Rock of Ages”, all of those songs. I don’t remember him going to church when I was there. I don’t know where he went to church. He had a beautiful piano.

A: He enjoyed playing piano?
F: Oh yeah….. Someone wrote a book on Skip, you know. I don’t think any of this information is in it.

A: What was his piano like?
F: Upright. Beautiful. In those days, most of them were used. He had a new one…..light brown, new. I don’t know what he did with his piano.

A: You said that, one night, Skip started out playing “I’m so Glad” for you real slow and then a flamenco piece. You said he was always full of surprises? How so?
F: Oh yeah, full of surprises….

A: What kind of surprises?
F: Musical surprises. Skip, his wife, and myself would listen to him play and talk in the living room. He would play a Broadway show tune, then a spiritual……something like that….

A: What were some of the spirituals he liked?
F: ….. “Jesus, he’s a mighty good leader, all the way, all the way”….., “I Shall Not Be Moved”, “Wade in the Water”….. I think I learned that one from Skip. That’s in my repertoire.

A: What about the woman behind Skip James, Lorenzo. What was she like?

F:  Lorenzo stuck with him all the way. If you asked him, he say, “She’s shaped like a Coca Coca bottle and she wibbles and she wobbles when she walks. Those are lines from a song of his. Very heavy. Not fat. Large woman. Very kind, thoughtful, and supportive. They have a beautiful grave site. She was religious. I don’t know what church.

A: So what about the lyrics, “I’d rather be the devil than to be that woman’s man?” Was that a real person?
F: He had an experience once. That song was a true story. I think we all have.

A: What did Skip say about Grafton or his recordings?
F: Not much…..except that they paid his way up there…..he had to sit still….in the recording laboratory. That’s what they called those then. He said it was uncomfortable. They were advertised in the Chicago Defender. They sold everywhere.

A: How did he record them? Did he like how they turned out? What about the Grafton studio?
F: It was a factory. He said, “They had me up in a factory in this room…..” I think that was a make shift studio.

A: What is a make shift studio?
F: You make your own place to record….they would set up the equipment to record you. The room would have to have good acoustics. (“Room tone” is what they called it in the 20’s)…..this was common…..The Wisconsin Chair Factory was a great place that was hollow…..spacious…..a great place to record…..

A: Yeah. That makes sense. I never heard that. Did he get paid well for his recordings?
F: Naw……No….I don’t think so. I think he got maybe $50 a record….maybe….I’m not sure how they paid him. You did a bunch of songs and they’d give you $40 or $50. They targeted people like Mississippi and Skip. It meant greater profit.

The black community bought them. Those records popped up in Chicago, New York, the south.

A: What can you tell me about “race records”?
F: Well, they had a market that was all part of segregation….they had a market for blacks and a market for whites. Then later, a polite way of saying “race records” was “R & B”. It was the politically correct term.

A: You mentioned that when Skip was ill, he was really “bitter about the guys running Paramount in the 30’s”. Why?
F: I think I was talking about H.C. Spier…..

A: Did Skip listen to his own recordings?
F: Oh yeah…….I had one of his 1930 sessions from Grafton…..my mother had all of his other albums…..She is, like, 90 years old. I was in Vietnam and I left all my records over there….Blind Lemon Jefferson….all of them….

A: Did Skip ever talk to you about Vietnam?
F: Oh sure….he said things like, “I’m proud of you….be careful…..take it easy…..keep playing that guitar…..If I can do it and John Hurt can do it, you could do it.”

A: Did you play on the ship?
F: Oh yeah.

A: Can you play “I’m So Glad”?
F: Oh God no! I could never play that. It’s too intricate for me. Mississippi John Hurt taught me. I could play his songs like him.

A: What was your favorite Skip song?
F: Al of them…..”I’m so Glad”……I listen to this more than any other. He had a strange way of tuning his guitar. Open E or open D.

Have you ever heard me?

You can hear one of my songs here. www.the-blindman.com/knockin.mp3 This is a song I wrote. Mississippi John Hurt taught me how to play like that.

A: Where did you record it?
F: In my living room.

A: With what?
F: One of those cheap tape players you buy at Radio Shack.
You can also go here. www.soundclick.com/bands/7/waltertoresspontobeat.htm Click on Soundclick. Maybe you’ll see 4 or 5 of my songs.

A: Why didn’t you ever become a performer?
F: Because I didn’t want to go through what Skip and my Uncle John went through. I decided to go to school. I went for 4 years and then became a police officer for the Boston Police Department. I’m retired now.

A: I read somewhere that Skip died of lung cancer. Is that what you remember?
F: He didn’t die of lung cancer. He had his testicles removed. We all in the family knew that. A lot of these people write a lot about these people and they get the facts all wrong. That’s why he had such a high voice because he had his testicles removed. He had that happen in the 60’s.

A: I am also looking at this photo of him taken at his 1964 Newport. He looks so mad. Why?
F: He had a good reason. He was a sick man. When that picture had been taken, he had just gotten out of the hospital.

Fred,  Thank you for very much for taking this time to interview.  And thank you for your enthusiasm, compliments and support when I released my first album, “Comfort My People”.  You have been a great friend to me at Blindman’s as well.  God bless, Angie

Angie in New York Writer’s Book

About Amanda Petrusich

Petrusich has written for The New York TimesPitchfork Media and Paste.[5] Petrusich has been a staff writer at Pitchfork since 2003.[6]She is the author of Pink Moon, a book on Nick Drake‘s album of the same name for the 33 1/3 music series,[5] and a 2008 book called It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, and the Search for the Next American Music, which Joe Boyd described in The Guardian as “a terrific piece of travel writing…a tour through the roots of American rural music.”[7] Petrusich also wrote a book on record collecting called Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records.[8]

Petrusich serves as clinical assistant professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU.[8] She began teaching at NYU in 2010 and joined the full-time faculty in 2015.[1]

Naming her to its 2016 list of “100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn Culture,” Brooklyn Magazine described Petrusich as “a towering force of grace and encouragement in New York music and criticism circles. Between mentoring emerging voices and writing with discernment about music’s most important figures, Petrusich is helping shape Brooklyn culture from the ground up.”[9]

–Wikipedia

Amanda Petrusich angela mack quotes