Francum Braswell & George Wade

James Francum Braswell (1908-1958) was born in 1908, the son of a farm family, in Piney, in Caldwell County, in western North Carolina. By 1920, however, his father and two siblings were working in cotton mill in nearby Lenoir, and although no definitive evidence has surfaced, Braswell himself may have worked in the mills, in either Caldwell or Gaston County. How Braswell and Wade met remains uncertain, nor is it clear how the duo came to audition for Columbia. However, in the fall of 1929, the pair traveled to Johnson City, Tennessee, to record at a field session, supervised by A & R man Frank B. Walker.
There, on October 21, 1929, in a makeshift studio set up in a former cream separator station, Wade and Braswell waxed two vocal duets for Columbia’s “Familiar Tunes, Old and New” series:
Think a Little
, a rather secular admonition to uphold the biblical Golden Rule, and When We Go A Courtin’, a comical cautionary tale about the hazards of courting (text taken from Gastonia Gallop's Artist Gallery).

Braswell's harmonica playing is extremely powerful and creative, remarkably close to Gwen Foster's style, employing lots of blowbends and upper octave tongue trills in 1st position on a G. Unfortunately these two cuts appear to be his only known recordings. However he remains to be an important part in the legacy of great Carolina harp players.

Francum Braswell & George Wade - "Think a Little"
Francum Braswell & George Wade - "When You Go A'Courtin"

Enjoy, folks!


Bill Cox

Born William Jennings Cox at Eagle, West Virginia in 1897, Bill very soon learned to play the harmonica and later the guitar. From 1927 onwards Cox had a little daily show on Walter Fredericks' local radio station WOBU and so his Dixie Songbird's show quickly became quite popular.
Fredericks also was the guy who convinced Cox in 1929 to finally go to Richmond, Indiana and cut some records to be played on the air when he would fail to appear the show. This was the beginning of Bill Cox's long-term recording career. After covering Jimmie Rodgers songs in the beginning, Cox increasingly developed his very own style performing a variety of older sentimental songs and original compositions, often including comical content from domestic everyday situations.In 1937 he recorded two songs that have become national country standards, "Filipino Baby" and "Sparkling Brown Eyes". Although it is said that there was no doubt about Cox's authorship of "Filipino Baby", he ended up making very little from it.

In 1965 an amateur folklorist found Cox living in poverty in a tiny shack in a slummy part of Charlston. He then received some financial aids and got to cut his last album before he died in December 1968.

Bill Cox - "Midnight Special"
Bill Cox - "Georgia Brown Blues"



George Pegram & Walter Parham

George Pegram of Union Grove, NC, and Walter Parham of Leicester, NC, have been playing and singing together for many years. They appear together, and with other instrumentalists, performing for square dances all over western North Carolina, and are the annual stars of Bascom Lamar Lunsford`s Mountain Folk Music And Dance Festival held each year in Asheville, NC during the first week of August.
When not performing, Pegram and Parham work as farm laborers and odd job men.
Pegram and Parham may also be heard on Riverside in "Banjo Songs Of The Southern Mountains" and "Southern Mountain Folk Songs And Ballads"
(text taken from the LP's liner notes).

Walter Parham's 1st position playing is both raw and technically brilliant at the same time. Being the only pure bluegrass harmonica player known he has a very distinct and powerful sound using mostly C and G harps. However he surely is being affected by the traditional blues techniques too, as to be heard in this classic Fox Chase:

Please enjoy!


Jaybird Coleman

Burl C. Coleman was born in Gainesville, AL. on May 20, 1896. He started performing blues as an entertainer for the American soldiers while in the U.S. Army. It was there that he was nicknamed "Jaybird" due to his independent manner.
In the early 1920's he toured the South with Big Joe Williams as a member of the Birmingham Jug Band. In 1927 he cut several sides under his name for the Gennett label in Birmingham. In April 1930, he recorded two more songs for Columbia. These were the last sides for him as a solo artist. In December of that year he teamed up again with the Birmingham Jug Band, a group that still featured Williams on guitar and also Blind Ben Covington and recorded for OKeh. After this session he became a street singer throughout Alabama. Jaybird Coleman died of cancer at the age of 53 in Tuskegee, AL. on January 28, 1950.
(Text taken from Mike's video description. Please visit "RandomAndRare" on YouTube, he's doing an outstanding job providing rare classic recordings from the earlier days!)

Pat Missin remarked on Coleman's involvement with the Birmingham Jug Band:
"I am totally unconvinced that Jaybird is the harp player on the Birmingham Jug Band sides. The original source for this information is Big Joe Williams and whilst he was a truly great bluesman, he was not the most reliable historian. I guess it's possible that Jaybird played with them at some point, but the harmonica work on the BJB sides sounds nothing like him. They were recorded the same year that Jaybird did those two sides with piano accompaniment and there is a huge difference between the tight ensemble playing the Jug Band and Jaybird's tendency to ignore strictly measured bars, preferring instead those free stretched field holler-like phrases."
To read the whole text please check the comments.

Actually there are two versions of his most popular tune "Man Trouble Blues". The first one was cut in 1927 and is a plain Jaybird solo piece

In comparison to that here's the second version from 1930featuring piano:

Jaybird Coleman & the Birmingham Jug Band - "Getting Ready for Trial"
Jaybird Coleman - "Coffee Grinder Blues"
Jaybird Coleman - "No More Good Water"

Filisko & Noden performing Coleman's "I'm Gonna Cross the River of Jordan":



Harding Price/ Ace Johnson

Recorded 1940 in Shafter Farm Security Administration Camp, CA.
During their first of two trips to FSA Camp, Charles L. Todd & Robert Sonkin fortunately got to record both Price and Johnson for the Archive of American Folk Song (today: Archive of Folk Coulture).
Despite being rather short excerpts these first two recordings of Harding Price being accompanied by Ernest Alston on guitar do display proficiency and precision on both guys' instruments:

Harding Price & Ernest Alston - "Spanish Two Step"
Harding Price & Ernest Alston - "Careless Love"

Ace Johnson's train imitation is top notch technically, displaying a variety of popular train rhythms from back in the old days. His tune "Mama don't allow..." though is a great example of classic country and coffeehouse harp playing. Furthermore he appears on some other recordings as a guitarist which was very common then.

Ace Johnson - "Train"
Ace Johnson & LW Gooden - "Mama don't 'low no Swingin out in Here"

All recordings can be heard on "Voices from the Dust Bowl", a collection of about 18 hrs of audio recording as well as pictures and notes taken between 1940 and '41.

Please enjoy!


The Nelstone's Hawaiians

After Hawaii as part of the 1898 Joint Resolution had been made the 43rd state , tourism and media had quickly figured how to make profit out of this newly accuired "modern man's paradise".
Later during the early 20's there was a real boom music-wise, especially in terms of hula-rhythms as well as steel and slide guitars.

Surely one of the more original bands of that episode were the Alabama based Nelstone's Hawaiians. The name merged from the two founding members' first names: Hubert Nelson and James D. Touchstone.

What makes this so special is the fusion of classic American folk music and Hawaiian influences. The harmonica is being played in a very vivid and lively manner, employing lots of blowbends and trills as for instance Gwen Foster did too. Rhythmical elements being thrown in via tongue slaps do play an important role as well. The comical part right at the very beginning of "Mobile County Blues" makes it easy to imagine what the groups' show back then might have been like and therefore offers a very unique look back through time...

Nelstone's Hawaiians - "Just Because"
Nelstone's Hawaiians - "Mobile County Blues"

Please enjoy!

Dutch Coleman & Red Whitehead

As a matter of fact very little is known about Coleman and Whitehead these days. Coming from some place in or near the Ozarks area there basically are only two recordings of the duo. Apparently "Booneville Stomp" and "Dad's Getting Fuzzy" happen to be pretty much the exact same percussive fox chase-like rhythm.
Nevertheless they are still some quite catchy and technically brilliant pieces of harmonica playing and therefore are featured on many of the early harp compilations such as "Harmonica Masters" for instance.

"Booneville Stomp"
"Dad's Getting Fuzzy"

If you do have further information on the duo
pls clue me, I'd really appreciate it!


The Carolina Tar Heels & Mr. Foster

Not too long ago I learned that there had actually been two guys in the band going by the name of G. Foster, both playing for the Carolina Tar Heels:
on the one hand it was Gwen Foster, a legendary harmonica genius being widely acclaimed for his distinctive style including stunningly fast tongue warbles combined with some real sweet upper octave playing
(Joe Filisko: "I think the player that I studied the hardest trying to imitate it was Gwen Foster.").

On the other hand, however, there was a way less popular guy named Garley Foster, who kind of took Gwen's place after he had left the group.
Now here's the exact story...

Since their foundation in 1925 it was Doc Walsh (banjo) and Gwen Foster (guitar & harp) who had originally formed the Carolina Tar Heels. Two years later in 1927, Garley Foster joined them, plus Clarence Ashley, who played guitar too. Shortly after that Gwen Foster left the band in order to make his own recordings, as for instance with the Blue Ridge Mountain Entertainers, with David Fletcher as the Carolina Twins as well as with Clarence Ashley forming the legendary folk duo Ashley and Foster.
Thus, as a matter of fact all the recordings of the Carolina Tar Heels from 1928 on do feature Garley instead of Gwen Foster, which in my opinion is often being widely misunderstood or just not mentioned at all.

The "new" Carolina Tar Heels: Doc Walsh, Drake Walsh and Garley Foster

Garley's harmonica playing appears to be pretty close to Gwen's, however there are some major differences. For instance did Garley very often employ a throaty "rrr" instead of Gwen's signature tongue warble.
Now here are all the sound samples I found of the Carolina Tar Heels - enjoy!

featuring Garley Foster
"Her Name was Hula Lou"
"Shanghai in China"
"Bring Me a Leaf from the Sea"

Gwen Foster and the Carolina Tar Heels
"Black Pine Waltz"
"Wilkes County Blues"
"Times Ain't Like They Used to Be"
"Back to Mexico"

furthermore there's Ashley and Foster
"Bay Rum Blues"
"Down at the Old Man's House"
"The Old Arm Chair"
"Frankie Silvers"
"My Sweet Farm Girl"
"Side Line Blues"
"Bull Dog Sal"
"Are You Going to Leave the Old Home, Jim"
"When I had but 50 Cents"
"I Love my Baby"

and the Carolina Twins
"When You Go a Courtin"
"The Boarding House Bells are Ringing"
"Off to War I'm Going"


Ernest Stoneman

Certainly Ernest V. Stoneman wasn't a harmonica virtuoso, however he and his family had quite an impact on the early folk and country scene. On February 2008 he got introduced into the Country Hall of Fame by the Nashville Country Music Association.Growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountain area, Stoneman had picked up the autoharp, harmonica, guitar, banjo and even the jawharp very early.
His classical first position TB harmonica playing was vivid and rhythmical as to be heard on Juneberry 78s:

Celebrating the release of the 2CD set "Ernest Stoneman - The Unsung Father of Country Music" (5 String Prod.) this closing video features two performances honoring the late great Ernest "Pop" Stoneman - enjoy!



Booker T. Sapps & Roger Matthews

For those who were wondering who these two guys in the headline are:
it's Florida-based Booker T. Sapps and Roger Matthews actually, two fairly unknown harmonica players from the 1930's.
Some may have already heard about them on Blues-Harp-Muenster, but I'm just not getting tired of emphasizing: these guys rocked a**es back then like nobody's business...
Providing sort of an early but way more rooted "Coffeehouse Blues", as for instance Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee did throughout the following decades, we are especially lucky Alan Lomax did cross the duos' ways in 1935 - in Belle Glade, FL to be precise.
After a devastating hurricane had destroyed most of the town's infrastructure in 1928, construction workers were well demanded in this area and it's very probable that Sapps and Matthews also had found employment in either dam construction or the town's rebuilding itself.

However, what is so unique about their style is the fact that there were two harps involved, mostly one for accompaniment and one for lead that is. As to be heard in the following both artists were very skillful and surely knew how to get their instruments going:

Covering all the common pre war techniques such as rhythmical chugging patterns (assumedly played purely tongue blocked), whooping as well as melody the duo had a whole variety of classic material including trains and a fox chase but also traditionals and spirituals as from "John Henry" to
"Poor Lazarus".

As far as I know most of their material can be found on Document's

As a bonus here's an audio stream of
"Frankie and Albert (Cooney and Delia)"
- enjoy!


Hi to all oldtime harp fans worldwide!

Hey guys, let me introduce myself very quickly.
My name is Matthias and I'm a German harmonica player and researcher in the field of pre war and old time music. I decided to bring this blog to life in order to provide information on this extremely vast but yet fairly unknown aspect of harp history.

Until the Great Depression in the early 30's had brought an abrupt end to excessive recording, there was a large variety of exceptional and very unique artists that had emerged during the 1920's.
In the following I will try to present some of these early artists, their techniques as well as some background information to y'all out there.

I'm telling you I'm curious myself about what this is going to turn to in the future...
hope y'all like it!

Yours, Maz