The H. C. Speir Phonograph Company
225 North Farish Street

Noted blues historian, Gayle Dean Wardlow,  "discovered" and interviewed Henry C. Speir in the 1960s. Wardlow made known the importance of and contribution to the preservation and development of blues by Speirs. He has stated that Henry C. Speir is to blues what Sam Phillips (Founder of Sun Records) is to fifties rock and roll. He opened a store, The H.C.Speir Phonograph Co., on North Farish Street in the black section of town in 1925. But, it is mainly his work as a blues talent scout for which he is remembered. Speir had recording equipment upstairs in his store, possibly the only person who did in Mississippi at that time. It is virtually a certainty that Robert Johnson made his first recording, a demo, in Speir's store. The list of blues artists who owe their recording opportunity to Speir is legendary: Kokomo Arnold, Lucille Bogan, Ishmon Bracey, Bo Carter, Son House, Skip James, Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, The Mississippi Sheiks, Mississippi Jook Band, Charley Patton and many others. In 1942, a fire in Speir's store destroyed many of the records involving his scouting and recording session arrangement history. Thus, a valuable resource to blues history researchers was lost. Henry C. Speir, aged 76, died in 1972.

The building that housed The H. C. Speir Phonograph Co. at 225 N. Farish St. has been demolished since the publication of Steve Cheseborough's Blues Traveling (second edition) in 2004. It was at the far end of the lot, in this view, separated from the building in the background by an alley.
The pile of bricks and other demolition debris (above) and the parapet wall bearing "Brown Furniture Co." (right) are all that is left of the building that once housed The H. C. Speir Phonograph Company
Jackson artist and engineer, L. Jerald Beasley, stands in front of the former location of Trumpet Records. A sampling of Mr. Beasley's Delta, blues-related paintings may be seen on the "ARTWORK" page of this web site.

Lillian McMurry, Record Mart, Diamond Recording Studio and Trumpet Records

Lillian Shed married Willard McMurry in 1945 and they established a furniture store at 309 North Farish Street in Jackson. In 1949, Mrs. McMurry discovered in the store an old pile of records which included "All She Wants to Do Is Rock" by Wynonie Harris. She put them on her record player and was taken with them. She said that, until that time, she was totally unaware of the music that blacks had been making all around her. "It was the most unusual, sincere and solid sound I'd ever heard. I'd never heard anything with such rhythm and freedom." Some time later, she put a counter in her husband's store from which to sell records. It eventually occupied the whole store and was named The Record Mart. 
She formed Trumpet Records in 1950, recording at Scott Radio Service, 128 N. Gallatin St. in Jackson (now a parking lot). Sonny Boy Williamson II, Elmore James, Joe Willie Wilkins and Willie Love all had their first releases on Trumpet Records. Elmore James famous version of Robert Johnson's Dust My Broom was released on Trumpet. In 1953, she installed recording equipment in the store which formed Diamond Recording Studio. Mrs. McMurry scrupulously kept track of all her releases, making sure that the bluesmen in her fold received their royalties long after she had disbanded her businesses. Lillian Shed McMurry died on March 28, 1999 in Jackson at age seventy-seven.

Much later on, 309 North Farish Street became the offices of The Jackson Advocate, a vocal, black-oriented newspaper. The Jackson Advocate moved to 438 Mill Street after the Farish Street location was fire bombed in 1997.

A sampling of urban graffiti-poetry on the building just north of the old Spier location
Peaches Cafe

From Blues Traveling, by Steve Cheseborough (2004):

This locally beloved soul food restaurant has been open since 1961 and is still owned and operated by its founder, Willora "Peaches" Ephram, with the help of her son, Roderick. On Thursdays, veteran blues guitarist Jesse Robinson plays for lunchtime diners 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. On weekend nights, Peaches becomes a jook joint-like neighborhood hangout with grooving to the blues from the jukebox and, occasionally, live music. Beer is served weekend nights (BYOB liquor). 

Neighborhood patron, Richard Butler, inside Peaches with a smile and thumbs up for the camera
Blues plaques, inset in the paver sidewalk in front of Peaches Cafe and The Alamo Theatre
L. Jerald Beasley and Richard Butler (below) outside Peaches Cafe
To the performers listed on this sign must be added blues piano great Otis Spann, whose prowess on the keys won the Alamo Theatre Competition. Spann is known for his many years as Muddy Waters' pianist. He was a great influence on Muddy's harmonica player, blues harp legend James Cotton, who said, "Spann learnt me how to play with Muddy." After Muddy Waters' death, Spann  went on to have a formidable career of his own.
L. Jerald Beasley outside the Alamo Theatre. The engineering firm in which he was a partner (He is now retired.) was involved with the Alamo's restoration project.
This is 241 North Farish Street, the former location of Ace Records, founded in 1955 by Johnny Vincent. Willie Clayton, Earl King (Those Lonely, Lonely Nights), Johnny Littlejohn, Bobby Marchan and Huey "Piano" Smith had tunes released on Ace.
The Big Apple Inn, 509 North Farish Street, owned by Gene Lee, is known to locals as "Big John's" after Juan "Big John" Mora, Lee's grandfather and the original owner. Sonnyboy Williamson II (see Tutwiler page) and his wife, Mattie, lived in the apartment upstairs. Elmore James and Willie Love stayed there. The apartment was later the state NAACP headquarters. Medgar Evers,  murdered at his Jackson home in 1963, worked there as NAACP state field secretary. 
The Big Apple is famous for its tamales and for its pig ear sandwiches which were loved by late, greats, Bobby "Blue" Bland and BB King. Smoked-sausage, hamburger, hot dog and fried bologna sandwiches are also popular items on the menu.

Birdland was once The Crystal Palace, featuring R&B and jazz performers. The former name is faintly legible on the top of the faded white panel above "Birdland," though not so much in this photograph.
This house, at 905 Ann Banks Street, has an exceptionally rich blues history. It is described in Steve Cheseborough's Blues Traveling (2004) as "vacant as of this writing, but still in fairly good shape." Obviously, someone has taken up residence and lavished quite a bit of TLC on the home since that time. Its list of former blues residents is staggering: Elmore James (Dust My Broom), Skip James (I'd Rather Be the Devil), Tommy Johnson (Canned Heat Blues), Charlie "Papa Charlie" McCoy (Cow Cow Blues, with Bo Carter), Joe McCoy (When The Levee Breaks with his wife, Memphis Minnie) and Johnny Temple (Louise Louise Blues). It would seem that this home should qualify for a place on the National Register of Historic Places.
North Farish Street scenes
Sam Myers 
(February 19, 1936 - July 17, 2006)

I remember Sam Myers playing harp with various blues bands in and around Jackson, Mississippi, standing in front of the microphone in his suit with his bandolier of harmonicas and wearing his thick-lensed glasses. Sam was the consummate front man, smooth, cordial and dignified, as if he had graduated from the B.B. King School for Emcees. During the band's breaks, he was the gracious host, unpretentious, reigning king of the Jackson blues scene, the last of the old school bluesmen around. 
He was born in Laurel, Mississippi and moved to Jackson where he attended school. He played drums and trumpet and was awarded a scholarship to the American Conservatory School of Music in Chicago. While in Chicago, he met and played with Jimmy Rogers, Howling Wolf, Robert "Junior" Lockwood, Elmore James, Little Walter and Muddy Waters. Sam was Elmore James' drummer and harp player from the early fifties until James died in 1963. From that time until the eighties, he played the Chitlin' Circuit and in the Jackson clubs. He toured the world with Sylvia Embrey and the Mississippi All-Stars Band. In 1986, Sam moved to Texas to join Anson Funderburgh's Rockets where he became their front man and harp player and enjoyed some of the recognition he so richly deserved.

Sam died July 17, 2006 of throat cancer in Dallas, Texas.

Rest in Peace, Sam.

No photography credit available
Jackson does not have the association with blues enjoyed by many Mississippi towns. It's not in the Delta and, being a city rather than a town, is deemed by many as too urban to have nurtured the early blues. But, the truth is, blues, since shortly after its birth, has always been in the state capitol and a strong blues tradition continues there today. The list of bluesmen who were born, lived or had lengthy stays in Jackson is long and ripe with famous figures. Tommy Johnson is believed by many to have influenced the blues of Robert Johnson. Many say it was the other way around. A similar controversy exists regarding Tommy Johnson and Charlie Patton. Memphis Minnie, Elmore James, Ishmon Bracey, Sam Myers, Charlie McCoy, Skip James, Bo Carter....these are just many of the famous blues artists that lived, played, worked or recorded in Jackson. Jackson also has a rich history in the recording and promotion of the blues. H.C. Speirs, Lillian McMurry, Tommy Couch, Wolf Stephenson and Johnny Vincent are among Jacksonians who found blues talent and either recorded them or arranged recording sessions for them. 

Tommy Johnson

No relation to Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson was born in 1896 in Terry, Mississippi and grew up in nearby Crystal Springs twenty-five miles southwest of Jackson. As a young man, he moved to the Delta town of Drew. While in the Delta, he learned much from the Delta blues players of Dockery Plantation, including Charlie Patton. He developed a style that differed from them, with clean, delicate guitarwork and vibratto tenor vocals. As with Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson is said to have acquired his blues prowess at a midnight meeting with the devil at a lonely Delta crossroads. His brother, LeDell, explained the legend:

He said the reason he knowed so much, said he sold hisself to the devil. I asked him how. He said, "If you want to learn how to play anything you want to play and learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and you go down to where a road crosses that way, where a crossroad is. Get there, be sure to get there just a little 'fore twelve o'clock that night so you'll know you'll be there. You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself. You have to go by yourself and be sitting there playing a piece. A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar, and he'll tune it. And then he'll play a piece and hand it back to you. That's the way I learned to play anything I want."

From the Delta, Tommy Johnson moved to Jackson where he lived for the remainder of his life. Often playing with his friend, Ishmon Bracey, Johnson was considered to be a hard drinker, even among bluesmen, known for their excessive drinking. He often drank Sterno, shoe polish or anything else that would get him high when normal alcoholic drink was not available. Sterno, known as "canned heat," was the subject of his alcoholic composition Canned Heat Blues which was adopted as a name by the 1960s rock group, Canned Heat. Until his penchant for strong drink rendered him unable to perform, Tommy Johnson was known throughout the state among blues fans. His Big Road Blues, Cool Water Blues and Maggie Campbell Blues have stood the test of time. His works have been covered by Canned Heat and Bonnie Raitt. Tommy Johnson died of a heart attack in Crystal Springs in 1956. 

Ishmon Bracey
Jan. 9, 1901 - Feb 12, 1970

Ishman Bracey (On certain 78 rpm record labels the name is spelled "Ishmon," and this has carried over in some sources.) was an early figure in Mississippi Delta blues and an associate of singer Tommy Johnson. Bracey learned guitar from "Mississippi" Ruben Lacy, and starting in the 1910s he played local dances, juke joints, fish fries and other local events in rural Mississippi. Bracey first recorded for Victor in Memphis in February, 1928 with Charlie McCoy on second guitar, and the two returned to Memphis for a second batch of records on August 31 of that year. Ishman Bracey finished out his recording career at Paramount with a group called the New Orleans Nehi Boys featuring Kid Ernest Michall on clarinet and Charles Taylor on piano. Bracey also accompanied Taylor on four selections of his own. As in the case of his close friend Tommy Johnson, Ishman Bracey's recording output is small; only 16 titles in all, although four of them are known in alternate takes. Two additional titles, "Low Down Blues" and "Run to Me at Night," were apparently issued by Paramount, but have never been found. Original copies of Ishman Bracey's 78-rpm records are among the most valued items sought by blues collectors.

Of Bracey's songs, "Trouble Hearted Blues" and "Left Alone Blues" are very highly regarded, but in general his work is quite consistent and listening to his small output in its complete form certainly has its rewards. After his recording career ended, Bracey continued to perform, again with Tommy Johnson, on the medicine-show circuit. After World War II Bracey "got religion," and wasn't even interested in discussing his career as a bluesman when rediscovered in the late '50s. However, he did provide advice to researchers that led to the rediscovery of Skip James, and it is worth noting that Ishman Bracey continued to perform sacred material in local churches up until the day he died. 
Uncle Dave Lewis ~ All Music Guide
Note: I have encountered the controversy regarding the spelling of Bracey's first name a number of times. Absent a birth certificate or other definitive document, one must simply choose a spelling and work with it. However, it would appear from the photo of his tombstone that his family spells it "Ishmon." ~ Road Dawg 

Music: Mississippi Sheiks, Sweet Maggie
Mississippi Sheiks

Formed in Jackson about 1926, the Mississippi Sheiks recorded over  five dozen songs and were one of the most popular string bands of the  twenties and thirties. With guitarists, Walter Vinson, Sam Chatmon, Bo Carter and fiddler Lonnie Chatmon, they took their name from  the Rudolf Valentino movie, The Sheik. The Chatmons claimed kinship  to Charley Patton, of Dockery Farms. They began recording for Okeh in  1930. Their biggest hit was Sitting on Top of the World (which can be  heard on the Hollandale page), a cross-over hit that sold over a  million records. Their last recording session was for Bluebird in  1935.

King Edward Hotel

The King Edward was the site of field recording trips for blues, folk  and gospel music. In 1930, Okeh set up shop there and recorded The  Mississippi Sheiks, Slim Duckett, Pig Norwood, Elder Curry, Caldwell  Bracey, The Campbell College Quartet and Elder Charlie Beck.

The King Edward has undergone extensive renovation to  convert it to shops, apartments and office space.

       Doo wah, doo wah, doo wah, ditty,
       Ain't no town,
       Ain't no city......
Doo wah, doo wah, doo wah, ditty,
Ain't no town,
Ain't no city......