Monday, June 4, 2012

The Texas Blues #2 – “Levee Camp Moan” – Texas Alexander & Lonnie Johnson

Good morning! & yes, folks, it’s an actual edition of the Monday Morning Blues here on Robert Frost’s Banjo.

If your memory is good, you may recall that I’d just started a series on the Texas blues way back in early April. Then my season of blog malaise set in, & the series was put on the shelf. But it’s back. For the foreseeable future, I envision posting Monday Morning Blues & Banjo Friday in alternating weeks—I think that was the plan awhile ago, but this time I’m going to try to stick to it!

One of the most singular of the early blues musicians was a man named Alger “Texas” Alexander; in his recording career, he invariably went by “Texas Alexander.” Alexander was born in 1900 in Jewett, Texas, & came up as a street performer & a performer at parties. It’s said that he performed with Blind Lemon Jefferson, presumably during Jefferson’s time as a performer in Dallas.

Alexander was a singer, pure & simple—he didn’t play any instrument. As a singer, he was accompanied by some stellar instrumentalists, including guitar greats Eddie Lang,  Lonnie Johnson & “Little Hat” Jones, pianist Clarence Williams, & cornet player King Oliver. As I understand, he also used Lightnin’ Hopkins as an accompanist later in his life, & there is some speculation that the two were cousins.  Alexander also recorded with the immensely popular Mississippi Sheiks.

Texas Alexander was no smooth blues crooner, however. As you’ll hear in his great “Levee Camp Blues,” his style & delivery owed a lot more to field “hollers” & work chants than to melodious popular song. Given this fact, pairing him with great jazz players like Johnson, Land, & Oliver is itself singular—& indeed, most of his accompanist’s agreed that it was challenging to follow him, as he would often stretch the time, add beats, & even change keys while singing! Nonetheless, his duets with Lonnie Johnson are considered masterpieces of their kind, with Johnson—a guitarist who’s very underrated these days—was able to weave counterpoint accompaniments that meshed perfectly with the singing. An unlikely duo, certainly—but one that produced unique & memorable music.

This recording of “Levee Camp Moan” is from an August, 1927 session for Okeh, made in New York. Alexander made over 50 recordings for Okeh & Vocalion in the 1920s & 30s; but he was convicted of murder in 1939, & was in the Paris, Texas penitentiary thru 1945. He continued recording until 1950 with a group called Benton’s Busy Bees, & died of syphilis in 1954.

This is really quite amazing music—I know you’re going to enjoy it!

Pic of Texas Alexander links to its source


  1. So good to read Monday Morning Blues. I had to hunt for you blog, because for some reason several blogs I follow have fallen off my list. I really enjoyed reading about the blues from Texas and the selection you shared is haunting and powerful.

    1. Thanks so much, Joyce! As I mentioned in the lead-in, Monday Morning Blues should be every other week going forward, alternating Texas Blues & Any Woman's Blues, except in months where the series appears three times. If you ever lose the link, Googling "Robert Frost's Banjo" will take you right here!


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