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paul secor

Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas

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There is a long, convoluted, and totally fascinating article in The New York Times about Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas, two mysteries of the recorded blues. A must for anyone interested in the blues - and, for jazz fans, saxophonist Don Wilkerson makes an appearance at the end of the article.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/13/magazine/blues.html?_r=0#

Edited by paul secor

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Wow! Thank you. I thought this was great.

BTW I've never read one of those NY Times interactive stories before and when I tried to download the mp3s at the end they would play but not download. Is that because I have a Mac?

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whoa! shocked to see that in the NYT; Paramount/Jack White effect? author's portentous style was kinda irritating at points, and he should have given a nod to Mary Beth Hamilton re: Jim McKune but I can't deny the work & heave... kudos to both Sullivan & Caitlin Love for sticking with it, also the Times editor(s) who approved, encouraged (very very rarely will I ever say that).

AND-- kudos to Jazz Record Mart alum Don Kent, among others, for calling it likely Texas years ago...

more Don--

http://www.eastriverstringband.com/radioshow/?p=455#comment-8815

re: Don Wilkerson, granted the story was already long but I think another line or two wouldn't be remiss, esp. since he had three albums on still iconic Blue Note, two of which ("Shoutin'" & "Preach, Brother!") with notable cover art etc.

R. Crumb will in back in the states shortly, would love to know get his & other veteran collectors reactions.

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The Don Wilkerson who appears in The Times article seems to be a different man from the Don Wilkerson who recorded with Amos Milburn and with Ray Charles, and who recorded for Blue Note and Riverside. That Don Wilkerson is reported to have died in 1986. The Don Wilkerson in the article is still alive, or at least was until recently. Who knows what the story is there? Perhaps there are parts of the mystery that are still unsolved.

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thanks Moms for mentioning the failure to mention Mary Beth Hamilton, which is problematic, though I loved the article.

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ah, thanks for clarification, Paul. is the living Don Wilkerson possibly a 'fake' Don Wilkerson, stage name to capitalize on the Elder Don or ??? in that case a quick parenthetical...

not to be confused with, nor-- we thnk, related to-- DW of Ray Charles et al...

anyway, curious what the story there is, if any.

for more on Mack McCormick, here's a long Texas Monthly profile that likely eluded many of us back in 2002--

http://www.texasmonthly.com/content/mack-mccormick-still-has-blues

overall yes an excellent article and I guess for mainstream audience like that writer is smart to slightly ham it up, gives a greater chance to reach those for whom the subject is otherwise obscure or merely 'quaint,' whereas for us it's v. much a vital, familiar territory.

Edited by MomsMobley

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Fascinating article. Seems we tossed around the question of whether that "Low Down Dirty Shame" 45 is 'the' Don Wilkerson a few years ago:

Jsngrey states he's heard it and it IS "our" Don - but how can that can't be reconciled with Don Wilkerson dying in 1986 and talking with the author of this piece in 2013?

This seems definitive proof, I guess, that the Don Wilkerson in the article can't be the one who worked with Ray and recorded for BN, Jim's judgement notwithstanding.

Edited by Dan Gould

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Fascinating article. Seems we tossed around the question of whether that "Low Down Dirty Shame" 45 is 'the' Don Wilkerson a few years ago:

Jsngrey states he's heard it and it IS "our" Don - but how can that can't be reconciled with Don Wilkerson dying in 1986 and talking with the author of this piece in 2013?

This seems definitive proof, I guess, that the Don Wilkerson in the article can't be the one who worked with Ray and recorded for BN, Jim's judgement notwithstanding.

Or it's possible that the Don Wilkerson mentioned in the article appropriated the 45 as his own work. I have no idea what the answer is.

I just e-mailed the following letter to The NY Times. Perhaps an answer to all of this will come. Or maybe not - the world is full of unsolved mysteries.

To NY Times Magazine:

Please Don’t Bury My Soul is a wonderful article – one not just of interest to blues fans, but to lovers of history and also to people who enjoy reading about interesting topics.

The end of the article with its mention of a tenor saxophonist named Don Wilkerson, however, creates another mystery. There was a fairly well known tenor saxophonist named Don Wilkerson who was born in Houston, played with Charles Brown, recorded with both Amos Milburn and Ray Charles in the 1950s, lived in Los Angeles for a time, and recorded under his own name for Riverside and Blue Note in the 1960s. He is listed in biographies as having died in 1986.

The Tomel 45 mentioned in the article is credited to this Don Wlkerson in the following discography: http://www.jazzdiscography.com/Leaders/WilkersonDon-ldr.php

I can remember seeing a review of the 45 in (iirc) the early 1980s in Living Blues magazine and it was assumed there that the record was by the well known Don Wilkerson.

So it seems that another piece of the puzzle remains to be solved. Is the Don Wilkerson mentioned in the article someone who took a stage name to capitalize on a more famous musician’s reputation? Did the well known Don Wilkerson not pass away in 1986 and is still living in Houston? Or is there some other answer? Perhaps this is another research subject for John Jeremiah Sullivan and Caitlin Rose Love.

Paul Secor

Edited by paul secor

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Isn't it possible that the discography and Living Blues were mistaken? The Don Wilkerson in the article seems to have his own history.

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Isn't it possible that the discography and Living Blues were mistaken? The Don Wilkerson in the article seems to have his own history.

That's possible. More research may turn up the answer.

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Absolutely fascinating article and thanks Paul for bringing it to our attention.

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This Don Wilkerson is supposed to be in his 90s. "Our" Don Wilkerson was born in 1932, per AMG, and would be in his early 80s if alive.

If this Don gave L.V. the nickname "Slack" and Geeshie called her that in the 1930 recording session, then he'd really have to be a different, older Don Wilkerson. Plus did anyone notice that his given first name is John? If anyone has the Wilkerson liner notes handy I'd think they might mention if Don is his first name or if his given name was John D. Wilkerson.

I think its fairly clear that, discographical presumptions and Jim's ears notwithstanding, there's no great mystery here. We just presume a Texas tenor named Don Wilkerson has to be "the" Don Wilkerson when it's not.

Last thing I can add - I have a CD transfer of recordings of Don Wilkerson at the Show Biz in Houston in 1963. There is a male vocalist on "Sticks and Stones" and while I cannot "know" is Don, listening to it again, its a noticeably different vocal compared to the snippet of this 45. FWIW.

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I read through the liner notes of The Complete BN Sessions and didn't see any mention of a name other than Don.

You may be right that the Don Wilkerson in the article recorded the 45. I'd still like to hear it or at least have Jim give it another listening before I'd go that far. It does seem likely that John D. Wilkerson appropriated the name of Don Wilkerson (even though John D. was older) as a kind claim to fame.

Still - more research to be done.

Incidentally, I sent a correction of my e-mail to The Times. According to sources, the well known Don Wilkerson was born in Moreauville, La., not in Houston. He went to high school in Hoston.

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I mentioned the 45 to Shelley Carroll a while back, after first coming across it, and he said that yes, it was the same Don Wilkerson. He didn't know the specifics but he seemed to know about the record and that it was Don. What he didn't claim was that Don was the vocalist.

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just as an addendum - many years ago Mack McCormick told me that he had, in a closet somewhere, a Peck Kelley acetate; I was never, however, able to get him to get any more info or to produce anything. Given, however, that he is a recluse and a pain in the butt, but NOT a bullshit artist, I have a feeling he still has it.

Edited by AllenLowe

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I mentioned the 45 to Shelley Carroll a while back, after first coming across it, and he said that yes, it was the same Don Wilkerson. He didn't know the specifics but he seemed to know about the record and that it was Don. What he didn't claim was that Don was the vocalist.

Well the article certainly claims that this Don Wilkerson is the vocalist and presumably the saxophonist. What are the odds of two Don Wilkerson's on one date?

Just to clarify Jim, you have heard the 45 and believe yourself that it is Don the BN artist? That was your statement in the prior thread I linked above.

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Yes, I do have the 45, and yes, I do believe that the saxophonist is the Ray Charles (and keep in mind that Wilkerson was touring with RC through the70s, maybe even into the early 1980s) Don Wilkerson.

The odds of two Don Wilkersons on one date are indeed slim, but given the obscurity of the label, I'd not be surprised to find out that Don got some kind of deal through some kind of off-the-radar blues/buisness contacts, took along what might have been a cousin or uncle or something along for the session, and this was the result. I'd also not be surprised to find out that the old man now claims that it was his record or that he's always called himself "Don", that it was him who got the date and that he took the tenor playing Don along, and that the whole thing was cut right there in Houston, not L.A., that L.A. was the business address of whoever it was who put out this curiosity for whatever reason. I'd not be surprised by anything, because we're talking about a circuit of performance & business practices where precise documentation and paper trails occurred only sometimes, and then when deemed necessary and/or advantageous for a specific individual's specific need at a specific point in time.

All I know is that the name on the label says "Don Wilkerson", that the saxophonist sure as hell sounds like the guy who played on the Ray Charles records, and that that Don Wilkerson might have "retired" to Houston but was no means out of circulation/exposure. Past that, we're looking at the world of independently funded one-shot R&B records of the 1980s, and hey, do ya' like FUN boys and girls? :g

If so....

Google the address the address given on the label of the Tomel 45 - 3821 So. LaSalle Ave. Los Angles Calif. 90018. No such place per se - S. LaSalle ends at W. Jefferson and only goes up to the 3100 block before it does. Then it picks up again a few blocks south, but ends with the 3700 block before being interrupted by a train track. What the map shows as its continuation is in fact an alley.

There is a 3821 LaSalle Ave. in LA, but it's now zip code 90062. The non-south LaSalle running parallel to that alley. Both addresses show to be older residential areas with small-ish houses of an older age. No storefronts or anything. Use the maps and then street level views, its all there. Not knowing how old those tracks are, or what re-coding of the area's Zip Codes might have occurred as a result, I'd be willing to accept that this was/is the place that was the "home" of Tomel records.

Does this deal look like anything other than somebody knowing somebody who put up some money for somebody for some reason? And who was more likely in a position to get in that traffic? "Or Don Wilkerson" or some old guy with a foggy memory who claims to have "used to been" a "Texas saxophone player". Not saying that there's no familial relation, I'd have no idea about that, but although the rest of the record sounds "unknown" the sax playing really does not.

Maybe I'm wrong, could be. But nothing here is making me hear otherwise.

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And has anyone ever heard of the Lp the label claims the single is from: "Shadow of the Blues"?

Edited by medjuck

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I don't know but it looks like there are at least two pressings of this, because Jim investigated the address listed on the 45 pictured in the NYT article, but the earliest thread we've had about this, Jim posted:

"Low Down Dirty Shame", Parts 1 & 2, Tomel Records 101 by Don Wilkerson and his Tympo Five. A division of Don Wilkerson Production (sic) says the label. 3733 So. Western Ave. 90018, Phone 734-9075 it also adds. Runoff area says T-123A (or B), and the pressing plant stamp is a lowercase "d" at an upward left 45-degree angle to a lower case "g" (adding fuel to my suspicion that Dusty Groove maybe has their own pirate pressing thing going on...)

So, Jim's copy implies a Don Wilkerson ownership interest but that gets no mention in the subsequent release when it was supposed to be lifted from this mysterious LP.

I am definitely more inclined to believe that two Wilkerson's took part in this session, probably an uncle, who knew one of the mysterious lady blues singers and provided the vocal.

Here's the link to the earliest thread, if you missed it above. Soul Stream also owns a copy and believes its "the" Don Wilkerson on alto too.

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As a followup to this post here: about Brother Brown Publsihing, I've found this little tidbit: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/southernsoul/conversations/topics/33275

> Can anyone help untangle my Jimmy Mack confusion? Theres a 45 on
> the Hi
> subsidiary Pawn by Jimmy Mack Love Junkie/Be Good To The One Thats
> Good
> To You, and judging by the writer credit on the first song, his real
> name
> was Jimmy McGlothian and BMI lists two other songs by him ? Funk I
> Tis
> and Pop Goes The Weasel both published by Brother Brown Publishing
> in Los
> Angeles. (Brother Brown published works by Ray Agee and Vernon
> Garrett and
> I think that it was the publishing arm of the White Enterprises
> label.)

Vernon Garrett I know of from his many years locally, but Ray Agee, that's a new one on me (probably not for people who are deeper into this stuff than I am, though).

Anyway, look and listen to this:

And ok, look at this: http://www.discogs.com/label/119310-White-Enterprises-Records

Hello, Charlie Roberson, maker of one of the greatest indie R&B records ever, and one of the nicest & fairest men I've ever gigged with. The ladies love him, and so do his bands. He was casual about booking because he owned his own successful transmission repair business in South Dallas.

So, back to Vernon Garret, also on this label, and here we have personnel: http://www.discogs.com/Vernon-Garrett-Somebody-Messed-Up-At-The-Crossroads/release/2867598 notice a tenor player names Hollis Gilmore who turns up with Percy Mayfield on a Timeless album:

and who has his own album (and bio)

http://www.cduniverse.com/productinfo.asp?pid=7127555&style=music&fulldesc=T

So...all this doesn't really connect yet, but these records definitely all hover around an L.A. blues/R&B scene that the cats in the Ray Charles band would have had contact with at one time or another, along with some interconnection with South Dallas...which is not Houston, especially at the time the Don Wilkerson 45 was released. But still, it makes it more likely to me that the Ray Charles Don Wilkerson still had connections in L.A. from his days there with Amos Milburn, etc., and that that makes it more "likely" that the Tomel 45 was issued under his name.

Still and all...my reaction is still a partially educated WTF? because Hollis Gillmore plays very nicely, but if that one cut is any example, he doesn't sound like Don Wilkerson (although, with guys like this, never assume anything, because they got gears and they got faces and don't ever think you've seen them all after just a casual look, that would be a possibly fatal mistake, that would).

Still another consideration, though, "Don Wilkerson Productions" could easily be just an on-paper way to get rid of some money for somebody for some reason, or to likewise stick somebody with a liability.

So, ok, Jerry Don White...who the hell were you?

Jerry White Enterprises
4308 SO. Vermont Ave.

LA , CA 90037

A quick seven minute drive from La Salle!

https://www.google.com/maps/dir/7406+La+Salle+Ave,+Los+Angeles,+CA+90047/4308+S+Vermont+Ave,+Los+Angeles,+CA+90037/@33.9888309,-118.3135474,14z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x80c2b7d37d31a3c7:0x2d45a8b31c6772f5!2m2!1d-118.305408!2d33.972513!1m5!1m1!1s0x80c2c804cdc86791:0x28fd8c89f28a6a11!2m2!1d-118.2915473!2d34.0051511

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http://books.google.com/books?id=7AoEAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA7&dq=billboard%20magazine%20don%20wilkerson&pg=PA7#v=onepage&q=billboard%20magazine%20don%20wilkerson&f=false

15 December 1958

"James Martin, head of Copa and Marquee Records in Houston, will release sides featuring Mildred Jones, Don Wilkerson, and Liz Gray. First sides will be out in January..."

It's by no means a sure shot but re: Jerry White I'd search L.A. black newspapers for starters...

Edited by MomsMobley

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The more I think about it the more I am convinced that there were two Don Wilkerson's on that date and it just sucks that the author didn't recognize the name and probe further about the details of the recording. So I withdraw my assertion that two Wilkerson's wasn't very likely. :g

What's dispositive to me is Jim's statement that Shelley Carroll told him it was Don's recording, that he put it out. If I'm not mistaken Don wasn't just a musical influence, he and Shelley were tight. I almost want to say that Shelley lived with Don's family or something like that? So wasn't repeating a supposition but stating what Don told him directly, and probably contemporaneous with the time the record was in distribution.

Now the pieces fall into place ... he needed a vocalist, and he called his uncle or cousin or whatever the familial connection was, and 30 years later we're left with the presumption that the vocalist was the only "Wilkerson" on the date. If the author knew more about blues/R&B/jazz he might have recognized the name of Don Wilkerson and probed the old man a little more but alas he did not.

I also don't think, contra my friend Paul, that this Don Wilkerson appropriated any name as his own. This isn't Sonny Boy the 6th or something. These are just two people from the same extended family who both played tenor and answered to "Don".

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As far as what was being "channeled" on that record...the blue label Tomel 45 is credited to "Don Wilkerson - His Tympo Five".

$_3.JPG

An obvious allusion to Louis Jordan And His Tympani Five

$_57.JPG

"Shepard" being Ollie Shepard:

Now, listen to Jordan's version:

And now, a sample of the Wilkerson 45: http://74.220.215.83/~mikevagu/ebay/wilkersondon.mp3

So, great article until "Don Wilkerson" comes into the picture, and then I think they got in past what they knew and just stared assuming and, I hate to say it, romanticizing.

Perhaps not, but this "Don Wilkerson" thing is surely not as easily wrapped up as presented.

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Good research, Jim.

And you're right. The gist of the article is fine. No one had any knowledge of Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley (except possibly people who knew them back when) until now. That's the important thing. If the researchers hadn't gotten that last phone call that led them to some possible false assumptions, all would have been well.

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John Sullivan asked me to post this here:

"Hello, all. John Sullivan here. Just wanted to say thanks for the thoughtful comments and criticisms, and make a few things clearer that were left ambiguous in the essay through unavoidable cutting for space. First, about Marybeth Hamilton: couldn't agree more re the importance of her work. The only reason I didn't name-check her here is that the last thing I wrote on the pre-war blues (for Harper's) was largely about her book. Even so it would have been good to mention her in the paragraph on James McKune, since she more than anyone is to thank for resurrecting that weirdly compelling figure, at least outside the circle of 78 Quarterly readers. (Incidentally: I found some new material on McKune, including another photograph of him, from when he was a kid, along with biographical info that clears up the uncertainty around his origins, some of which is included in the expanded version of the essay that'll appear in Revenant/Third Man's upcoming Paramount Vol. 2 set.) Second, the mystery of Don Wilkerson(s). We did a lot of digging on this, and got some research help from Alan Govenar ("Texas Blues") and Rick Mitchell ("Whiskey River"), plus the NY Times Mag's fact-checkers. Turns out the answer to the question, "Is it really possible that there could be two African American male saxophone players from Houston named Don Wilkerson both of whom played with Ray Charles?" is, Yes. There's Donald A. "Don" Wilkerson, born in Louisiana and moved to Houston as a teenager. He's of course by far the better known of the two. Made albums for Blue Beat and played on some of Ray Charles's earliest 45s. Died in the 80s. Then there's John Donald "Don" Wilkerson, Houston born and bred, the lesser-known of the two, but he too played with some serious people over the years, including Big Joe Turner and T-Bone Walker. Both Don Wilkersons seem to have played with Amos Milburn at different points (trying to nail that one down now). The latter, lesser-known Don Wilkerson made that Tomel 45 we know about, in California in the 80s. (Robin Wartell, from the article, lived with him out there for a period and worked in his shoe shop.) In the early 90s this same Don Wilkerson shared a bill in Houston with Ray Charles. Rick Mitchell was there that night and sent me a phone pic of the poster. It's this second Don Wilkerson who knew L. V. and remembered Geeshie/Geechee, and he's still very alive in his mid-nineties (even blew some notes on his horn for Caitlin, though as mentioned, his memory is much diminished). His sister, Dalia May or Dally Mae Wilkerson, died only a few years ago. Everyone in the family agreed that the revelations about L. V./Elvie would have meant more to her than to anyone, because she looked up to L. V., and had been her caretaker at the very end, and she (Dally Mae) had lived a very tough life. Anyway . . . Neat to see Allen Lowe here--Allen, I've learned a lot from yr work. JSngry, you're dead on about Shepard/Jordan feeding into Don Wilkerson's record, but does that mean L. V. and Lillie Mae's earlier version hadn't predisposed him to the song and delivery? A man can dream! Thanks again to all of you for reading. John S. PS. Another thing that was left out of the edit: Don Wilkerson (the living one) told us that L. V. was always trying to get him to switch to guitar, from the horn, but he "didn't take to it for some reason." His daughter, Jana, had very vivid memories of going to "almost like a juke joint" in Houston with her father, her mother (Elnora, who sings), her father's mother, Big Mama, who played piano, and Auntie L. V. She even said she had a distinct memory of L. V.'s having played the drums at one of these sessions. That I didn't include because it just seemed too far out! I couldn't square it with the woman we'd come to know from Mount Pleasant Baptist. Would have needed corroboration first, at least. Jana has promised that she'll keep needling her father about L. V. and Geeshie during his lucid moments. I am hopeful that there will be more from him."

Edited by AllenLowe

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