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Henry Thomas

Texas songster Henry Thomas remains a relative stranger who made some great recordings, then returned to obscurity. Evidence suggests he was an itinerant street musician, a musical hobo who rode the rails across Texas and possibly to the World's Fairs in St. Louis and Chicago just before and after the turn of the century. Most agree he was the oldest African-American folk artist to produce a significant body of recordings. His projected 1874 birth date would predate Charley Patton by a good 17 years. Like Patton and a handful of other musicians generally termed songsters (including John Hurt, Jim Jackson, Mance Lipscomb, Furry Lewis, and Leadbelly), Thomas' repertoire bridged the 19th and 20th centuries, providing a compelling glimpse into a wide range of African-American musical genres. The 23 songs he cut for Vocalion between 1927 and 1929 include a spiritual, ballads, reels, dance songs, and eight selections titled blues. Obviously dance music, his songs were geared to older dance styles shared by black and white audiences.

Thomas' sound, like his repertoire, is unique. He capoed his guitar high up the neck and strummed it in the manner of a banjo, favoring dance rhythm over complex fingerwork. On many of his pieces, he simultaneously played the quills or panpipes, a common but seldom-recorded African-American folk instrument indigenous to Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Combining the quills, a limited-range melody instrument, with his banjo-like strummed guitar produced one of the most memorable sounds in American folk music. For example, his lead-in on "Bull Doze Blues" still worked as a hook when recycled 40 years later by blues-rockers Canned Heat in their version of "Going Up the Country." "Ragtime Texas," as Thomas was known, provides a welcome inroad to 19th century dance music, but his music is neither obscure nor merely educational: it has a timeless quality -- and while it may be an acquired taste, once you catch on to it, you're hooked. ~ Barry Lee Pearson
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Anthology Of American Folk Music

Disc 1

1. Henry Lee

2. Fatal Flower Garden

3. The House Carpenter

4. Drunkard's Special

5. Old Lady And The Devil

6. The Butcher's Boy

7. The Wagoner's Lad

8. King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O

9. Old Shoes And Leggins

10. Willie Moore

11. A Lazy Farmer Boy

12. Peg And Awl

13. Ommie Wise

14. My Name Is John Johanna

Disc 2

1. Bandit Cole Younger

2. Charles Giteau

3. John Hardy Was A Desperate Little Man

4. Gonna Die With My Hammer In My Hand

5. Stackalee

6. White House Blues

7. Frankie

8. When That Great Ship Went Down

9. Engine 143

10. Kassie Jones

11. Down On Penny's Farm

12. Mississippi Boweavil Blues

13. Got The Farm Land Blues

Disc 3

1. Sail Away Lady

2. The Wild Wagoner

3. Wake Up Jacob

4. La Danseuse

5. Georgia Stomp

6. Brilliancy Medley

7. Indian War Whoop

8. Old Country Stomp

9. Old Dog Blue

10. Saut Crapaud

11. Acadian One-Step

12. Home Sweet Home

13. Newport Blues

Disc 4

3. Rocky Road

4. Present Joys

5. This Song Of Love

7. He Got Better Things For You

9. John The Baptist

10. Dry Bones

11. John The Revelator

12. Little Moses

13. Shine On Me

14. Fifty Miles Of Elbow Room

Disc 5

1. The Coo Coo Bird

2. East Virginia

3. Minglewood Blues

5. James Alley Blues

7. I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground

8. Mountaineer's Courtship

9. The Spanish Merchant's Daughter

10. Bob Lee Junior Blues

11. Single Girl, Married Girl

12. La Vieux Soulard Et Sa Femme

13. Rabbit Foot Blues

14. Expressman Blues

Disc 6

1. Poor Boy Blues

2. Feather Bed

3. Country Blues

5. Prison Cell Blues

6. See That My Grave Is Kept Clean

8. Way Down The Old Plank Road

9. Buddy Won't You Roll Down The Line

10. Spike Driver Blues

11. K.C. Moan

12. Train On The Island

13. The Lone Star Trail

14. Fishing Blues

x

Track List: Baby, How Can It Be? Songs Of Love, Lust & Contempt From The 1920s And 30s

Disc 1

1. Baby, How Can It Be?

8. Hapa Haole Hula Girl

9. Sweetest Girl In Town

17. Lost Lover Blues

20. Don't Leave Me Here

Disc 2

2. Tomi Tomi

7. It's Heated

13. There's More Pretty Girls Than One

20. Nehi Mama Blues

Disc 3

1. I'm Gonna Kill Myself

2. She Ain't Built That Way

4. You Gonna Look Like A Monkey When You Get Old

7. I Used To Call Her Baby

15. Some Cold Rainy Day

16. Corinna Blues

17. Big Leg Blues

20. The World Is Going Wrong

x

Track List: Broadcasting The Blues: Black Blues In The Segregation Era

Disc 1

1. Baby, Please Don't Go

2. Match Box Blues

3. Yonder Come The Blues

4. Yellow Dog Blues

5. Walkin' Blues

7. My Soul Is A Witness

8. Long Hot Summer Days

9. Lucky Holler

10. Penitentiary Moan

11. Old Country Stomp

12. Dry Bone Shuffle

13. Mysterious Coon

17. I Heard The Voice Of A Porkchop

18. Spike Driver Blues

20. Fare Thee Well Blues

21. Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home

22. Travelin' Blues

Disc 2

1. Chocolate To The Bone

3. Tennessee Dog

5. Washboard Cut-Out

6. Flying Crows Blues

7. Rules And Regulations 'Signed Razor Jim'

8. Ground Hog Blues

10. Wednesday Evening She Left Me

11. Lonesome Day Blues

14. Black, Brown And White

15. Pratt City Blues

16. Blues Before Sunrise

17. Blues Trip Me This Morning

18. Poor Man Blues

20. My Black Mama - Part I

21. Cotton Pickin' Blues

23. Number 29

24. Jim Crow Blues

Disc 3

1. Aunt Caroline Dyer Blues

3. Policy Dream Blues

4. North Memphis Blues

6. They Ain't Walkin' No More

7. Ice Pick Blues

9. Parchman Farm Blues

10. Shelby County Workhouse Blues

11. Working On The Project

13. Let's Have A New Deal

14. Tallahatchie River Blues

15. St. Louis Cyclone Blues

17. Fire Department Blues

18. Give Me A 32-30

20. Build A Cave

21. Crying Mother Blues

23. The Dirty Dozen

24. Three Ball Blues

25. Milk Cow Blues

26. Cool Drink Of Water Blues

27. Some Summer Day

28. Make Me A Pallet On The Floor

30. Spirit Of Boogie Woogie

31. Fifty Miles Of Elbow Room

x

Track List: Out There: Wild And Wondrous Roots Of Rock 'n' Roll, Vol. 1

1. Pascola Dance

2. Oba Oyinbo

3. High Water Everywhere

4. Rockin' Rollin' Mama

5. Tomi Tomi

6. Serves 'Em Fine

7. It's A Good Thing

8. Lint Head Stomp

9. Fox And The Hounds

10. African Love Call

11. A Big Ball In Cowtown

12. Pero Hay Que Triste

14. Shimmy Shakin' Daddy

15. Rock Island Line

16. Shake It

17. Somebody's Been Using That Thing

18. Evans Shuffle ((Feat. Little Walter)

19. Dusty Blossom Boogie

20. Rock Little Baby

x

Track List: Rough Guide To The Blues Songsters

1. Pick Poor Robin Clean

2. Don't Leave Me Here

3. What A Time (Take 1)

4. The Spasm

5. Your Baby Ain't Sweet Like Mine

6. Frankie

7. Every Day In The Week Blues

8. How Long

9. John Henry (The Steel Driving Man), Pt. 1

10. Old Rock Island Blues

11. Cocaine

12. Mississippi Boweavil Blues

13. Stackalee

14. Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)

15. A Chicken Can Waltz The Gravy Around

16. How You Want Your Rollin' Done

17. Midnight Special

18. Hey! Lawdy Mama - The France Blues

19. Railroad Bill

20. Come On Boys Let's Do That Messin' Around

21. James Alley Blues

22. Going To Germany

23. Coal Man Blues

24. Nobody's Business If I Do

x

Track List: Rough Guide To Unsung Heroes Of Country Blues

1. Fishing Blues

2. Never Drive A Stranger From Your Door

3. Don't Put That Thing On Me

4. Cairo Blues

5. Keep It Clean

6. Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home

7. California Desert Blues

8. Little Girl In Rome

9. Married Man Blues

10. Fare Thee Well Blues

11. Lonesome Road Blues

12. Pick Poor Robin Clean

13. My Buddy Blind Papa Lemon

14. Old Original Kokomo Blues

15. Labor Blues

16. Section Gang Blues

17. Let's Go Riding

18. Roll And Tumble Blues

19. Please Ma'am

20. Cottonfield Blues - Part 2

21. Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do - Part 2 (Take 1)

22. Rolling Log Blues

23. You Can't Keep No Brown

24. Cherry Ball

x

Track List: The Early Roots Of Rock N' Roll

1. High Water Everywhere

2. Rock And Roll

4. Somebody's Been Using That Thing

6. Oh Red

7. Dusty Blossom Boogie

8. Evans Shuffle

9. Serves 'Em Fine

10. White Lightning

11. A Big Ball In Cowtown

13. Rock Island Line

14. Two Little Men In A Flying Saucer

15. My Black Mama Part One

16. Rockin' Chair Money

19. Shake It

20. Rockin' Rollin' Mama

21. Country Blues

22. Ramrod

23. Down The Road Apiece

24. Round Town Girls

25. Rhythm And Booze

26. Saturday Night Fish Fry

27. Alarm Clock Boogie

28. Shimmy Shakin' Daddy

29. She's Gone

30. Hittin' The Bottle Stomp

31. Lint Head Stomp

32. Fast Freight

34. Pero Hay Que Triste

35. Tomi Tomi

36. African Love Call

37. Oh By Jingo!

38. It's A Good Thing

39. Rock Little Baby

40. Mother Fuya

42. Let That Liar Alone

43. Rockin' With Red

44. Fox And The Hounds

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