Robert Shaw 
(Barrelhouse) Piano
b. Staffons, TX, USA. d. 1985.
All during the 1920s and '30s, Shaw's barrelhouse piano was greatly responsible for the distinctive regional piano style around Houston, Fort Worth, and Galveston, Texas. Alas, he was little recorded. His wonderful 1963 album for the Almanac label, later reissued on Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie label, remains his principal recorded legacy.
MORE: Robert Shaw, blues pianist, was born on August 9, 1908, in Stafford, Texas, the son of Jesse and Hettie Shaw. His parents owned a 200-acre farm. The Shaws had a Steinway grand piano and provided music lessons for his sisters, but Shaw was not permitted to take piano lessons because his father was opposed to the idea. Years later he told an interviewer that he would "crawl under the house" to catch the musical strains coming from one of his sisters' piano lessons. Shaw obeyed his father and worked alongside him in the family's cattle and hog business. He played piano when the rest of the family was away from home and practiced the songs he heard on errands into town. Reportedly, the first song he learned was "Aggravatin' Papa Don't You Try to Two-Time Me."
By the time he was a teenager, Shaw would slip away to hear jazz musicians in Houston and at the roadhouses in the nearby countryside. As soon as he was able, he sought out a piano teacher to take lessons and paid for them from his own earnings. In time, despite his father's opposition, he decided to pursue his dream of becoming a jazz musician. In addition to ragtime elements such as syncopation, the "barrelhouse" piano style that Shaw played employs a heavy, hard-hitting touch with fast release. The style was named for the barrelhouses, where it was performed-sheds with walls lined with beer and whiskey, an open floor, and a piano on a raised platform in a corner of the room. The back of the barrelhouse was also used as a bawdy house. Shaw learned his distinct brand of piano playing from other musicians in the Fourth Ward, Houston,qv which was the center of black entertainment in the city. Clubs there hosted such important bluesqv stylists as Sam (Lightnin') Hopkins.qv Famous dance bands of the era also appeared at the El Dorado and the Emancipation Park Dance Pavilion, two of the best dance halls in the Fourth Ward.
In the 1920s Shaw became part of an itinerant band loosely referred to as the "Santa Fe Circuit" because the musicians hopped aboard Santa Fe freight trains to do their tours. Shaw played as far north as Chicago, but he mostly confined himself to Texas. He appeared as a soloist in the clubs and roadhouses of such Southeast Texas towns as Sugar Land and Richmond, the South Texas town of Kingsville during the cotton harvest, and the big cities of Houston and Dallas. When the Kilgore oil boom occurred in 1930, Shaw went there to play, and in 1932 he headed to Kansas City, Kansas, to perform at the Black Orange Cafe.
In 1933 he had a radio show in Oklahoma City before returning to Texas, first to Fort Worth and then to Austin, where he took up permanent residence and opened a barbecue business. He later owned and operated a grocery store called the Stop and Swat in the predominantly black east side.
Shaw met Martha Landrum in Austin in 1936, and they married on December 22, 1939. They had no children. He had previously been married to a woman named Blanche, with whom he had a daughter, Verna Mae, and a son, William. For several decades after his marriage, Shaw ran his business in partnership with Martha. He was named the black businessman of the year in Austin in 1962. He also continued to play his music privately and for people who dropped by the Stop and Swat.
In 1967, seven years before his retirement from the grocery business, he returned to public musical performance, this time with a younger generation of followers and growing fame. With the revival of his career, as one of the few remaining "virtuoso" barrelhouse blues pianists of his period, Shaw played often in Austin and at the Kerrville Folk Festival.qv Over the following years he also performed in Amsterdam, in Frankfurt, and at the Berlin Jazz Festival. In addition he played at the Smithsonian Institute's American Folk Life Festival, the World's Fair Expo in Canada, the Border Folk Festival in El Paso, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Shaw also made at least one album, called Texas Barrelhouse Piano. This disk, recorded in Austin by Mack McCormick over a three-month period in 1963, was originally released by McCormick's Almanac Book and Recording Company. Arhoolie Records, one of the country's best-known folk recording companies, later reissued the album. Shaw was also featured with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band during its appearance at the 1973 annual Austin Aqua Fest, and his fame spread widely enough in the next decade to earn him an invitation to participate in the Texas Commission on the Artsqv touring arts program between 1981 and 1983.
He was scheduled to take part in the Texas Music Tour in honor of the Texas Sesquicentennial in 1986, but died of a heart attack in Austin on May 16, 1985. After a funeral service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Austin, he was buried at the Capital Memorial Gardens. Some jazz critics have noted that Shaw's repertoire remained fresh throughout his career because he continued to practice his unique barrelhouse style during his thirty-year hiatus, unaffected by newer or more popular blues styles. Moreover, his commitment to his technique ensured that a unique black musical tradition remained intact. On May 27, 1985, two weeks after his death, the state Senate adopted a resolution to honor Shaw's many contributions to the state's musical heritage.
~Teresa Palomo Acosta

Odell Thompson, banjo
b. Mebane (Orange County), NC, USA.
~Bio: One of the last links to the prewar African-American string band tradition, banjo player Odell Thompson was born on August 9, 1911, the son of John Arch Thompson, who was also a pretty fair banjo player. Thompson was raised in the northeastern part of Orange County in North Carolina, and when he began playing banjo, he absorbed his father's traditional repertoire, and was soon playing in string bands for square dances and frolics with his cousin, fiddler Joe Thompson. Odell took up guitar (he also played a little fiddle) and began playing the blues in the 1920s, but continued to play banjo in the old style in string bands with Joe until the 1940s, when pressure from bluegrass and other newer musical forms made their approach all but obsolete. In the early '70s, folklorist Kip Lornell discovered the duo and convinced them to start playing the old music again, which led to a new career of festivals and concerts for Thompson and his cousin.
Odell played banjo in the old clawhammer style (a down-stroking technique that is known by several names, including frailing, thumping, and drop-thumb) on a fretless resonator banjo, and his sound had a wonderfully wild and archaic feel. Odell's banjo, coupled with Joe's ragged, swerving fiddle style, effectively re-created the feel of black string bands from the 1800s, and the duo's performances were literally living history lessons. Joe and Odell had just completed a set at Merlefest on April 28, 1994, when Odell Thompson was struck and killed by a car while crossing a road outside the festival grounds. He was 83. His passing broke the last link to the black string band tradition as a living, breathing art form. ~ Steve Leggett

Nat Jaffe, piano
b. New York, NY
d. August 5, 1945, New York, NY, USA.
Between 1921-'32, his family lived in Berlin, Germany, and then returned to the U.S.A. In 1938, Nat was with the Charlie Barnet band; '39-'40 with Jack Teagarden; Led his own combos (including such men as Don Byas and Charlie Shavers) played the clubs on New York's famed 52nd Street. 

Harry Mills, vocals
b. Piqua, OH, USA.
Member: Mills Brothers.
An astonishing vocal group that grew into one of the longest-lasting oldies acts in American popular music, the Mills Brothers quickly moved from novelty wonders to pop successes and continued amazing audiences for decades. Originally billed as "Four Boys and a Guitar," the group's early records came complete with a note assuring listeners that the only musical instrument they were hearing was a guitar. The caution was understandable, since the Mills Brothers were so proficient at recreating trumpets, trombones, and saxophones with only their voices that early singles like "Tiger Rag" and "St. Louis Blues" sounded closer to a hot Dixieland combo than a vocal group. And even after the novelty wore off, the group's intricate harmonies continued charming audiences for decades.
The four brothers were all born in Piqua, Ohio -- John, Jr. in 1910, Herbert in 1912, Harry in 1913, and Donald in 1915. Their father owned a barber shop and founded a barbershop quartet as well, called the Four Kings of Harmony. His sons obviously learned their close harmonies first-hand, and began performing around the area. At one show, Harry Mills forgot his kazoo -- the group's usual accompaniment -- and ended up trying to emulate the instrument by cupping his hand over his mouth. The brothers were surprised to hear the sound of a trumpet proceeding from Harry's mouth, so they began to work the novelty into their act, with John taking tuba, Donald trombone, and Herbert a second trumpet. The act was perfect for vaudeville, and the Mills Brothers also began broadcasting over a Cincinnati radio station during the late '20s.
After moving to New York, the group became a sensation and hit it big during 1931 and early 1932 with the singles "Tiger Rag" and "Dinah" (the latter a duet with Bing Crosby). Dumb-founded listeners hardly believed the notice accompanying the records: "No musical instruments or mechanical devices used on this recording other than one guitar." Though the primitive audio of the era lent them a bit of latitude, the Mills Brothers indeed sounded exactly like they'd been backed by a small studio band. (It was, in essence, the flip side of early material by Duke Ellington's Orchestra, on which the plunger mutes of Bubber Miley and Tricky Sam Nanton resulted in horns sounding exactly like voices.) The exposure continued during 1932, with appearances in the film The Big Broadcast and more hits including "St. Louis Blues" and "Bugle Call Rag." John, Jr.'s sudden death in 1936 was a huge blow to the group, but father John, Sr. took over as bass singer and Bernard Addison became the group's guitarist. Still, the novelty appeared to wear off by the late '30s; despite duets with Ella Fitzgerald ("Dedicated to You") and Louis Armstrong ("Darling Nelly Gray"), the Mills Brothers' records weren't performing as well as they had earlier in the decade. All that changed in 1943 with the release of "Paper Doll," a sweet, intimate ballad that became one of the biggest hits of the decade -- twelve weeks on the top of the charts, and six million records sold (plus sheet music). The group made appearances in several movies during the early '40s, and hit number one again in 1944 with "You'll Always Hurt the One You Love."

The influence of middle-of-the-road pop slowly crept into their material from the 1940s; by the end of the decade the Mills Brothers began recording with traditional orchestras (usually conducted by Sy Oliver, Hal McIntyre or Sonny Burke). In 1952, "The Glow Worm" became their last number one hit. The group soldiered on during the '50s, though John, Sr. semi-permanently retired from the group in 1956. A move from Decca to Dot brought a moderate 1958 hit, a cover of the Silhouettes' "Get a Job" that made explicit the considerable influence on doo-wop exerted by early Mills Brothers records. As a trio, Herbert, Harry and Donald continued performing on the oldies circuit until Harry's death in 1982, and Herbert's in 1988. The last surviving sibling, Donald, began performing with the third generation of the family -- his son, John II -- until his own death in 1999.
~ John Bush

Notable Events Occurring
On This Date Include:

A.J. Fisher, of Chicago, IL, USA, received a patent for the electric washing machine, a device which replaced the old washboard, that previously had also found some use as a musical instrument.

Helen Morgan
backed by the Victor Young orchestra,
recorded "Bill", a tune first heard in
Jerome Kern's Broadway musical "Showboat"

William Russell - Made In America
William (Bill) Russell
died in New Orleans, LA, USA.
Age: 87.
Bill was one of the most important writers and historians involved in the New Orleans Revival of the 1940s. Besides his writing, Russell was a violinist with extensive study in both performance and composition, From 1934-'40, he played with 'The Red Gate Shadow Players' becoming enamored with New Orleans Jazz. Through the Hot Record Exchange, a shop that he started in 1935, he bought and sold records. In the mid 1930s, as a journalist, he contributed three chapters to the 1939 book Jazzmen, and was writing articles for Jazz Hot.
In 1942, Russell helped discover, and recorded, the forgotten cornetist Bunk Johnson. From 1944-'57, using his American Music label. Russell documented a variety of famous and obscure New Orleans musicians. (The GHB label has since released many of those sessions.) Living in New Orleans during 1958-65, Russell worked as the curator of the Tulane University Jazz archive, and by his interviews helped document the early history of Jazz. Beginning in 1967, Bill Russell played violin with the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra. His love of Dixieland Jazz never wavered, and throughout his life, he worked hard to save the details of Jazz's early history for posterity.
Bill Russell (composer)

Songs Recorded/Released
On this date include:


Marion Harris - I Ain't Got Nobody


Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra


Lena Wilson
  • Michigan Water Blues - Piano Accompaniment by Fletcher Henderson
Lena Wilson accompanied by
Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra
  • Afternoon Blues


Savoy Bearcats
  • How Could I Be Blue
  • Stampede


Emmett Miller accompanied
by his Georgia Crackers
  • Anytime
  • St. Louis Blues

Clara Smith - Ain't Got Nobody To Grind My Coffee


I Ain't Got Nobody
~(Roger Graham / Dave Peyton / Spencer Williams)

There's been a sayin' goin' round
And I begin to think it's true
It's awful hard to love someone
When they don't care about you
Once I had a lovin' gal
The sweetest little thing in town
But now she's gone and left me
She done turn me down
Now I ain't got nobody, and nobody cares for me!
That's why I'm sad and lonely,
Won't somebody come and take a chance with me?
I'll sing you love songs, honey, all the time,
If you'll only say you'll be sweet gal of mine,
Oh, I ain't got nobody, nobody cares for me!
(Instrumental Break)
I'll sing you love songs, honey, all the time,
If you'll only say you'll be sweet gal of mine,
Oh, I ain't got nobody, nobody cares for me!
READ MORE: I Ain't Got Nobody

Once I had a loving daddy,
Just as good as he could be,
But I haven't got a daddy,
He's done gone away from me,
And since he left me behind,
Here's what's on my mind, I find:
Ain't got nobody to grind my coffee in the morning,
Ain't got nobody to serve my breakfast in bed,
My daddy went away
A week ago today,
How'm I gonna find a-
Nother coffee grinder
Who could do my grinding like my sweet man could?
Ain't got nobody to light my brand-new percolator,
Ain't got nobody to heat my oven for me.
When my daddy was around me, he was oh, so good,
He would haul my ashes, even chop my kindling wood.
Ain't got nobody who would love me like my daddy could,
And grind the coffee for me, I say,
Grind the coffee for me!
Oh, my daddy used to love me pretty, I'll confess,
And believe me, he was really different from the rest,
Ain't got no other who could really put me to a test,
And grind the coffee for me, I say,
Grind the coffee for me!

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