Any Old Time (Jimmie Rodgers)

Living with the vagaries of the folk scene, I came late to Jimmie Rodgers — not because he was obscure, but on the contrary because his albums were available on a major label, RCA, at a time when I was buying reissue records on labels like Folkways, Yazoo, and Arhoolie. I’d learned a couple of his songs off records by Pete Seeger (“T.B. Blues”) and Cisco Houston (“Mule Skinner Blues”), but the song that made me go out and find one of his own albums was “Any Old Time,” after hearing Maria Muldaur’s version.

Muldaur recorded it on her first solo album, which I heard on my first day of high school, thanks to a couple of fellow freshmen, Beth and Woodley, who reacted to the fact that I played guitar by taking me back to Beth’s place and putting it on. I was tangentially aware of Muldaur from the Kweskin Jug Band, but had missed “Midnight at the Oasis” because I wasn’t a radio listener, so it took Beth and Woodley to educate me–they played me that LP, and then Geoff and Maria’s Pottery Pie–and her album started with “Any Old Time,” with Ry Cooder (whom I’d never heard before) playing fingerstyle guitar.

I’m not sure I ever owned the Muldaur record, but I liked the song and eventually picked up a couple of Rodgers’s RCA albums, and then the superbly programed Smithsonian set, which remains my gold standard for his work.

I liked Rodgers’s singing, of course, and his guitar work, and having come to him as “the Father of Country Music,” I was struck by the variety of musical settings he used. This song is a good example, featuring a kind of hotel jazz group with clarinet, cornet, and violin — all played by anonymous musicians, none of them very distinctive, but with a nice light swing.

For me, tracks like this were a revelation, since my folk scene education had led me to think of Rodgers as a sort of “roots” artist, defined as the opposite of a pop musician. Hearing him with this kind of band, and in his collaboration with Louis Armstrong, connected his records to Bessie Smith’s and then Bing Crosby’s, and thence to the recognition that in the 1920s and 1930s country and jazz still regularly met at the blues. That was part of my evolution into a fan of both country and jazz, and when I hit the club circuit in the early 1980s this song exemplified my overlapping tastes, and I played it a lot. (It had the added advantage of satisfying requests for Jimmie Rodgers material without requiring me to yodel — an art I didn’t pursue with even faint success until the following decade.)

Joshua Gone Barbados (Eric Von Schmidt)

This is Eric Von Schmidt’s best-known composition, thanks in a large part to Tom Rush, whose version I heard first and still echo in my guitar arrangement. Eric was a marvelous singer, a distinctive guitarist, a varied and brilliant songwriter, and one of my favorite people. I met him when some folks organized a Club 47 reunion at Johnny D’s Uptown Lounge in Somerville and someone arranged for Eric and Jack Landrón (known in his 47 days as Jackie Washington) to stay at my place. We got to jamming, and I played harmonica with Eric, and the next thing you know I was onstage with him at the reunion show.

That was what Eric was like — he was loose and improvisatory at all times, not just when he was playing, and I did my best to capture his zest and flavor in a profile I wrote for the Boston Globe. By that time I was playing with him more regularly, mostly adding harmonica but also some guitar and even occasional button accordion, and he was staying at my place and I was sleeping on the couch in his studio in Westport, surrounded by his amazingly varied paintings — one would look like a Remington western scene, the next like a Toulouse Lautrec, the next like a  Picasso, and then there’d be a few that looked nothing on earth but a Von Schmidt.

If you want my take on Eric, the Globe piece has more than I can fit here — suffice it to say, I loved playing with him and learned a lot from him, and I miss him.

As for “Joshua Gone Barbados,” it’s a great song and shows a deep sympathy for cane field workers inspired and then abandoned by their leader… the only problem being that Eric seems to have turned up on the island of St. Vincent just in time to hear some angry rumors, wrote the song, and split before getting a more complete story.

Ebenezer Theodore Joshua, the title character, was a dedicated labor leader and a significant figure in the movement for pan-Caribbean independence. Founder of the Federated Industrial and Agricultural Workers Union, he then went into politics and became St. Vincent’s first chief minister when the island gained regional autonomy. He organized the plantation and mill workers and in 1960 — or 1962, depending on your source — they went on strike. Eric’s details are pretty much right: no one was killed, and Sonny Child was a plantation owner rather than an overseer, but he was indeed beaten with a “cutlass” (what we know in the US as a machete) and hospitalized.

It is also true that Joshua left the island for Barbados during the strike, but it was to attend a vital meeting of Caribbean independence leaders, and he shortly was back and remained the head of the government until 1967 and the leader of the left-wing opposition party for many years after that. A writer in 1969 described him thus:

Ebenezer Theodore Joshua is the most controversial political figure on the island of St. Vincent. He is adulated by the thousands who follow him; for these people, largely poor, rural farm workers, Joshua is the liberator. For others, mainly the white, wealthy planter class, “Josh” is a demon, “an irresponsible leader who has told his people to cut our throats like sheep.” To the small number of Vincentian intellectuals, the teachers and economists in the Civil Service, “Josh is a good man to have in the opposition, a man of people, but not a very good Chief Minister.”

So there you have it. It’s still a great song, and I play it more or less like I heard it from Tom Rush, with some touches of my main man Joseph Spence, because I sing it in D and it’s from the islands, so Spence was the obvious way to go.

Candlepin Swing (Bill Morrissey)

One of the things I liked about Bill Morrissey’s songwriting was how regional it was — other New England folksingers often seemed like they’d rather be from somewhere more romantic, but Bill was writing things like “Small Town on the River” about Newmarket, New Hampsire; “My Baby and Me,” about fall, love, and hunting season; and “Candlepin Swing,” the only jive jazz number ever written about candlepin bowling.

Some of you may not know what candlepin bowling is, so I should start by saying that for most of my youth I hardly knew there was any other kind of bowling. Our local emporium of the art, Lanes & Games on Route 2, did have a few duckpin lanes, but I don’t remember seeing anyone using them and certainly never was with anyone who suggested we might try that strange and foreign variant of normal bowling. Many years later, I tried it, once, using those weird balls with the three holes in them, and sprained my index finger so I couldn’t play guitar comfortably for a month… which never happened with normal-size bowling balls.

So anyway, I was charmed when I heard Bill sing this, because it was such a wonderfully ridiculous example of regional pride. Unlike me, Bill was a man of the world, familiar not only with our sport but also with what is apparently known as bowling in the  rest of the country; hence his knowledgeable reference to Carmen Salvino and Ray Bluth — names I know only from this song, and knew wrong until I researched this post, which is why I pronounce the former’s name “Carmine” in my video.

Bill always introduced this with a reference to Slim Gaillard, one of our favorite musicians. Gaillard was a fine guitarist and decent pianist who made some legendary recordings with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie — or, as he referred to them on “Slim’s Jam,” Charlie Yardbird-o-rooney and Diz MacSkivvin-vout-o-rooney — as well as Bill’s favorite nonsense number, “Cement Mixer, Putti-Putti,” and a perky track I recall mostly for Slim’s spoken introduction:

We’re going to cook up a fine dish now, real groovy: wrap up some fine grape leaves and chip up a little lamb-o-rooney; sprinkle on a little fine rice-o-rooty and a little pep-o-rooney, a little pep-o-vouty, sprinkle on a little salt-o-rooney to put the seasoning in there, make it really mellow. Then you nail an avocado seed up in the ceiling and let it vout for a while.

Bill loved Gaillard’s surreal hipsterisms and would frequently lard his speech with o-vouties and o-roonies, and Slim’s influence was palpably present in his jive masterpiece, “King Jelly’s Good Morning Irene Song.” But the song he specifically cited Gaillard on was always this baby — partly, I suppose, because the juxtaposition was so unexpected. So anyway, here it is, in honor of Lanes & Games, and Bill, and my insufficiently misspent youth.

Incidentally, Bill never recorded this, and neither did anyone else, so I have to wonder whether at this point I’m the only person alive who knows it… if so, that’s tragic and I hope others pick it up.

King Jelly’s Good Morning Irene Song (Bill Morrissey)

So there I was opening for Mose Allison at Palms Playhouse in Davis, California, back in 1983, and I wanted to play something appropriate for his audience and obviously couldn’t fall back on “Everybody Cryin’ Mercy…” so I turned to Bill Morrissey.

Bill was one of my closest friends at that point, and I was doing at least one of his songs in pretty much every set — usually “Oil Money” or “Texas Blues,” but there were plenty of other options, because his lyrics were so well crafted that I would hear him sing something a couple or three times and find I knew it all the way through, without making any effort to learn it. (The most striking example being his early masterpiece, “Small Town on the River.”)

In the early 1980s Bill was becoming pretty well known as a singer-songwriter in the post-Dylan mode, but one of the things that brought us together was his affection for old blues and jazz. He could play decent clarinet, sax, and even a bit of trumpet, and he’d fronted a ragtag aggregation in Newmarket, New Hampshire, (sometimes called the Mental Retreads) that played a unique country/jazz/folk/hipster pastiche. He’d been influenced by Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Beatles, but also by Slim Gaillard,  Dan Hicks, and Tom Waits — not to mention Dave Van Ronk, whose shared friendship and mentorship originally brought us together.

Until he died in 2011, I’d get a call from Bill every year or so complaining about how bored he was by the folk scene and announcing that his new album would have jazzier stuff, including some of the old New Hampshire jive numbers — maybe “Sweaty Woman” or “Morrissey Takes a Dive” (which he recorded with the Retreads, and I’ve posted from their very lo-fi cassette), or his regional vout masterpiece, “Candlepin Swing.” He’d be practicing clarinet and talking with horn players who could sit in — his last album included a song he wrote for a collaboration with a sax player he’d found who’d toured with Billie Holiday, “He’s Not From Kansas City” — but then the album would come out, playing it safe again, with a mellow singer-songwriter or soft rock vibe.

I loved and admired Bill, and I’m glad he had some success on the singer-songwriter scene, but I wish he’d taken more artistic chances after the early days, and written more stuff like “King Jelly’s Good Morning Irene Song.” I’m guessing this was written under the influence of Dan Hicks, whom we both liked, and our friend Geoff Bartley recorded a fine version with Mike Turk on harmonica.

I have lots more about Bill in other posts, but meanwhile, getting back to my story, I played this for Mose’s crowd and it went over gangbusters, as well it should have:

I’m standing on a corner thinkin’ ’bout all the women in France
On Guggenheim grants,
When a guy come struttin’ down the street
Like he was tryin’ to shake loose
A broken roll of change from the leg of his pants…

Everybody Cryin’ Mercy (Mose Allison)

Having recently proposed Dave Van Ronk’s “Losers” as our new national anthem, allow me to suggest an alternate and more serious contender: Mose Allison’s “Everybody Cryin’ Mercy.” Mose himself proposed “When My Dreamboat Comes Home,” but that was in more optimistic times. Nowadays, this downbeat masterpiece seems more appropriate.

I don’t recall whether I first heard this done by Mose himself or by Bonnie Raitt or John Hammond, but I was already performing it regularly during my first cross-country tour in 1983, along with “They Always Told Me There’d Be Days Like This” and some of his more upbeat pieces: “Your Molecular Structure,” “Fool Killer,” and “Your Mind’s on Vacation.” Which is to say, I was going through a heavy Mose phase.

One of the highlights of that 1983 tour was opening for Mose at Palms Playhouse in Davis, California. I loved that room, because the booker would hire me to open for crazy headliners: Mose and his trio that year, the Chambers Brothers the next, and finally Sonny Terry and his electric band, right at the end of his life, though that last gig got cancelled.

Opening for Mose was one of the most frustrating and exhilarating experiences of my touring days — exhilarating because his audience was perfect, listening in rapt attention, laughing in all the right places, and giving me encores both sets (unbelievably, since that meant delaying Mose’s arrival, but they did it); frustrating because they were the best audience I ever worked for, and would never have come out to see me under other conditions. They were not a folk, folk-blues, or acoustic guitar audience, and much as they liked me that night, there was no way I was going to reach people like them on a regular basis.

But damn, it was nice working for Mose’s audience, and finding that they liked me. He even said a couple of nice words himself, though he’d spent most if not all of my set in the green room, so I assume he was just being polite.

As for this version of “Everybody Cryin’ Mercy”… I loved Mose’s records, but could never figure out even a decent approximation of his hip chord changes. For a while, that meant I didn’t play his stuff, but I really wanted to do this one, and after a while I came up with a half-assed rationalization for doing it the way I do it. To whit: Mose did all sorts of old three-chord blues songs, reharmonized with his hipper chords, so why couldn’t I reverse the process and do his hip tunes with old-fashioned blues changes?

There may be a good answer to that, but if so, don’t tell me, because I’ve been playing this with these changes for forty years and I’m settled in my ways. Honestly, I think it sounds nice this way — and whatever the chord changes, it’s such a great lyric. All too timely, alas…

Losers (Dave Van Ronk)

Dave Van Ronk intended this to be the title song of the album we ended up calling Going Back to Brooklyn — he was proud of the song and thought as a title it would be suitably ironic, especially considering his economic situation at the time. However,  his manager thought calling his first album of original songs “Losers” was asking for trouble, and then his wife Andrea did the beautiful stained glass of a red moon rising over the Brooklyn Bridge, and that was that. In any case, this song is a fine example of his lyrical gifts, along with “Sunday Street” and “Gaslight Rag.”

Dave wrote this around 1980, and I see from old setlists that I played it at the first gig on my first national tour. That was at the Mill in Iowa City, a nice bar run by a nice man named Keith Dempster, who booked me for two nights, not mentioning that it would be the first big football weekend of the season. It was a baptism of fire, my chance to prove what I could do in a noisy, rowdy bar, and I failed the test — though no harm was done, because no one was listening.

I don’t have much more to say about this song, because it speaks for itself — except to note that Dave had a deep and broad love for the English language. How many songs use the word “whosis,” or the phrase “groan bin”? I’d never run across “groan bin” before, and was charmed when I looked it up in Google and the only reference was to a Donald Duck comic in which “Donald warns Huey, Dewey, and Louie that their lack of outdoor survival skills will lead to a ‘trip to the groan bin’.” As it happens, Dave was an inveterate reader of Donald Duck comics, had a collection of vintage Disney books he sold for a pretty penny in the late 1970s, and bemoaned what he regarded as my undeserved good luck by calling me “Gyro Gearloose,” a reference to Donald’s ridiculously lucky cousin. “HoJo,” for the young folks, is the Howard Johnson’s restaurant chain. And according to Eric Partridge’s dictionary of slang, “Sneaky Pete” was a term for cheap wine, in use among hoboes in the 1930s.

I always thought “Losers” was one of Dave’s funniest songs, but given the current president’s proclivity for the word, and the state of the nation in his singularly incompetent hands, I am not only beginning to take it seriously, but proposing it as our new national anthem.

Framed (Robins/Leiber & Stoller/racism)

Thanks to cell phone videos and Black Lives Matter, it has become a lot harder for white Americans to ignore how badly black Americans are routinely treated by the US legal system… though that doesn’t mean everybody now gets it, or wants to get it. One way people don’t get it is to treat the recent spate of killings of young black men by police as something new — what is new is the videos, not what they show — or to treat those killings as isolated events rather than the normal, day-to-day experience of young black men in the United States.

Obviously, rappers have been talking about this subject for years, and this song is a reminder of just how many years. It was recorded in 1954 by the Robins, a group of young black men in Los Angeles, several of whom shortly moved to New York and became the Coasters (as in West Coast).

The songwriters were a pair of young white (to be specific, Jewish) men who had fallen in love with blues and R&B: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. They recognized the comic storytelling possibilities of the Muddy Waters/Willie Dixon “Hoochie Coochie Man” arrangement, reworked and expanded it, and as Stoller told Dave Ritz in their dual memoir: “We can’t and won’t claim credit as the inventors of rap, but if you listen to our early output, you’ll hear lots of black men talking poem-stories over a heavy backbeat.”

Their first hit along these lines was “Riot in Cell Bock #9,” and they shortly followed with this prequel. As Leiber told Ritz, “We called it ‘Framed’ and gave it a subtext that, despite the humor, refers to the legal brutality that impacted the black community.”

When I started singing “Framed,” I didn’t give a lot of thought to that subtext. I was in my early twenties, a product of the sixties counterculture, and  just thought of the lyric as a comic exaggeration of the way the court system railroaded people — not specifically black people.

These days it’s impossible for me not to think of this as a protest song, and the joke seems a lot more bitter than it did when I was singing this onstage in the early 1980s. Which said, it remains a great piece of writing, and I’m a strong believer in the power of comedy the worse things get, the more we need to be able to laugh at the situation, because unlike despair, laughter is energizing.

Anyone who hasn’t heard this before should check out the original by the Robins, and of course “Riot in Cell Block #9,” featuring the wonderful Richard Berry — as well as the earlier and jokier “Ten Days in Jail.” A few years later Leiber and Stoller wrote “Jailhouse Rock” for Elvis Presley, but  that was lightweight fluff compared to what they did in their early R&B days, when they were working with singers whose daily experiences mirrored the dark humor of the lyrics.

(For a later variant, check out the Coasters’ “Shopping for Clothes,” from 1960, a down-beat rap about the difficulties of getting store credit.)

Talking Wolverine 14 (Utah Phillips/Rosalie Sorrels)

I came to this song by way of two of my favorite people, Bruce “Utah” Phillips and Rosalie Sorrels. I met both of them through Dave Van Ronk, and saw them often over the years — I crashed at Bruce’s place in Spokane and then in Grass utah-and-rosalieValley, and at Rosalie’s cabin up in the mountains above Boise, and both of them stayed with me in various places, and they both told a lot of good stories and made a lot of good music. When I wrote my book on hitchhiking, Riding with Strangers, Bruce gave me a nice blurb and Rosalie put together a little tour of bookstores in Idaho, driving around with me and trading songs and stories — I’ve never been so damn honored in my life.

In his audio songbook, Utah called this “Wolverine 14 Talking Blues,” but I learned it off Rosalie’s album, so I stuck with her title. Bruce co-credited it to another good friend, Andy Cohen, but Andy says it wasn’t really a collaboration — Bruce just heard him fooling around with a ragtime blues and matched the lyrics to his memory of what Andy was playing.

I’ve tended to think Rosalie’s records were a poor substitute for hearing her live — she typically recorded with spare acoustic backing, the same way she played live, and the power and personality of her extraordinary voice overwhelmed the understated accompaniments — but onsorrels-travelin-lady Travelin’ Lady Rides Again she was backed by a top-notch band, including Mad Cat Ruth on harmonica, Winnie Winston on steel and banjo, and a solid rhythm section, and it has a nice, full group sound. This song in particular has a great feel, ending with Jeff Gutcheon quoting Meade Lux Lewis’s “Honky Tonk Train” piano boogie — in general I haven’t been steering readers to other versions of these songs, because one of my aims in this project is to showcase my versions, but Rosalie’s should be heard.

In the  aforementioned audio songbook, Utah explained that he made this up while waiting at the train station in Buffalo, dog tired and pissed off at the world, and the crankiness reflected his mood rather than a general disapproval of Amtrak. He liked pretty much any kind of trains — he did a whole album about them — and was glad the government was keeping them running, though he’d have liked to see a lot more of them and a lot more people using them. (As for the line about bringing back coal-fired engines, I’d say that’s his nostalgia overriding his politics, though he might have had a more complex explanation.)

The term “red ball” was obscure to me — in the old days, freight trains with priority routing were marked with a red disc, and hence called “red balls.” And I’d never thought about getting sidetracked literally, the way the term is used here, meaning to be shunted off on a side track to let another train pass. That was one of the pleasures of knowing Utah — he always peppered his conversation with obscure terms and was more than happy to discourse upon them if asked.

Richlands Woman (Mississippi John Hurt)

Another collaboration between Mississippi John Hurt and William E. Myer, the team responsible for “Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me,” this song has a wonderful lyric backed by one of my favorite guitar arrangements. Myer was from Richlands, Virginia, and apparently had mixed views of the town’s female population — at least, that’s what I make of the ebulliently polyamorous voice of the female protagonist alternating with the chorus warning her man to get home fast before she puts her words into action.

Aside from Hurt, the singers of this song have tended to be female, in part because  this is one of the few rural, guitar-centric songs in an explicitly female voice — and in part, I suppose, because some men feel weird singing about wanting red lipstick and pink shoes. For myself, I fell in love with the lyric at first hearing, and when I look back over old set lists, I find that I did it a lot in the early 1980s — probably more than any other Hurt song except “Mermaids.”

Which said, in my touring days I hadn’t yet learned Hurt’s guitar part properly, and just played a generic pseudo-Hurtian accompaniment. It wasn’t till the 1990s, after spending a year in Africa, that I was visiting my friend and sometime picking partner Dominic Kakolobango — a dedicated fan of Hurt and Mance Lipscomb* — in Brussels and decided to explore the quirks of Hurt’s playing, with this and “Satisfied and Tickled Too” as my maiden efforts.  I’ve since delved fairly deeply and taught classes in his unique musical language, and often start with “Richlands Woman,” because the first quirk is so simple and charming… so here goes, for the guitar players (everyone else will find this boring and/or confusing, but trust me, in context it’s fun):

Hurt plays this in C, and the opening melody riff is a twiddly alternation between the open high E string and the second string fretted on the fourth fret — an E and D#. The way I’d always played that was to just hold a C chord and stretch my little finger up to the D#, which is no great feat and sounds fine. But Hurt’s playing exemplifies economy of energy, and he apparently felt that stretch would be just a little too much trouble, so he doesn’t bother to hold the root chord at all. He just holds down the D# note, and leaves all the other strings open, which means he is playing open A and D basses under the treble D# and E. Which, if you want to analyze it in more or less formal terms, is kind of the “blue note” gone crazy — a major 3rd played against a minor 3rd, with a double-flatted 3rd in the bass, plus that bass A, which is the 6th, which I suppose you could think of as a double-flatted 7th. Or you can just ignore the theorizing and play it, which is presumably what Hurt did. If you play it slowly, it sounds kind of terrible, but up to speed it’s great. And then, at the end of each verse, Hurt plays the same damn riff again, but tends to hold the normal C basses and just plays a D rather than the D#.

That’s the unique pleasure of this chart, but there’s a more typical touch a bit further on: When playing in C, a lot of guitarists vary the alternating bass by moving their ring finger back and forth between the 5th and 6th string for a nice, loping C – E, G – E, C – E, G – E. That’s how I used to play Hurt’s songs, and thought he played them. But he pretty commonly does something quirkier: he starts with C – E, like all of us, then plays G – E, like many of us… and then he just stays with G – E until it’s time to switch chords, though C is the root of the damn chord and anyone else would want it there in the bass. In some songs that quirk just feels capricious, but in “Richlands Woman” it comes in handy because it puts him in position to slide the G bass up to an A along with the G-to-A he wants to play on the treble — likewise by sliding up from the third to the fifth fret.

Which is all very well, but… obviously the great pleasure of this song is the lyric, which, as I said at the beginning, is one of my all-time favorites.

*For a taste of what Dominic does, check out his version of Mance Lipscomb’s “Take Me Back” with a Congolese soukous band and a bilingual lyric in English and Swahili:


Cincinnati Flow Rag (Rev. Gary Davis)

I always loved Gary Davis’s guitar playing, but was into blues and ragtime a long time before I got into gospel music — so for many years my favorite of his albums was The Guitar & Banjo of Reverend Gary Davis.  As far as I know, this is the only instrumental album by any of the foundational blues or gospel guitarists of the prewar era, so it was also the one album I could listen to when I was in the mood to hear guitar without vocals. (There were only two banjo tracks, plus one on harmonica, all on side two, so I mostly stuck with side one.) I’ve since heard other versions of a lot of the pieces on this record, and if I compared them back to back I might prefer them, but these are the versions I heard first and know best, and generally the ones I learned.

Over the years I tried my hand at pretty much every track, and the first three were all at some point highlights of my repertoire. I’m not sure I recall all the parts of Davis’s reworking of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” which started things off, but I still regularly fool around with the second (titled “Slow Drag” on this release, though more commonly known as “Cincinnati Flow Rag”) and third (often titled “Twelve Sticks,” but here called “The Boy Was Kissing the Girl [And Playing the Guitar at the Same Time]). The fourth tune was an instrumental version of “Candyman,” and then a reimagining of some John Philip Sousa compositions called “United States March” — all in all, it’s a hell of an album.

Davis was without doubt the most versatile and virtuosic guitarist in the ragtime-based style popularized by Blind Blake — at least on record. I assume there were other contenders back in the teens and twenties: apparently some of his ragtime arrangements were based on pieces by Willie Walker, a friend a playing partner of Davis’s during his youth in South Carolina, who unfortunately recorded only two songs, one of them the astonishing “South Carolina Rag,” and Davis himself only recorded his ragtime instrumentals after being “rediscovered” in the 1960s. By the time record companies got interested in African American guitar players, the ragtime period was over and they were looking for blues and gospel singers, so any virtuoso ragtimers who were still around would have been ignored. (Another whom we know of only ex post facto was Johnny St. Cyr, who was presumably playing his intricate solo guitar version of Jelly Roll Morton’s “Jelly Roll Blues” by the 1920s, but only recorded it by chance many years later, when Alan Lomax interviewed him about Morton for the Library of Congress.)

I went through various stages of trying to play Davis’s pieces, and “Cincinnati Flow” was from one of the earlier rounds and undoubtedly simplifies a lot of the subtleties of his arrangement. I later had the pleasure of spending many long afternoons with Ernie Hawkins, a longtime student and disciple of Davis’s who really knows how to play this stuff, which considerably refined my approach to some tunes, but I’d been playing this one so long that I stuck with the way it felt comfortable.