Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Last week, St. Louis workers went on strike to protest Missouri's shameful sub-poverty minimum wage and coincidentally next week is the 80 year anniversary of one of the most important labor movement victories in St. Louis. Although this historic incident was certainly well known to the public at the time, it seems that it is mostly forgotten today.
Devil At The Confluence tells the story of Hi Henry Brown, one of the first protest musicians, and his blues songs of St. Louis during the Depression. In 1932, St Louis bluesmen Brown and Charley Jordan recorded Nut Factory Blues, a song about the sub-standard pay for women workers at a pecan shelling factory in the city. In the midst of the Great Depression, women workers were hired for manual labor jobs at wages of pennies per day. And with most men out of work, this was desperately needed income for many families.
The song described the hard conditions and may very well have solidified the worker's resolve because in May of 1933, fourteen hundred women workers went on strike against the Funsten Nut company in Deep Morgan (near where the City Museum is today.) After eight days they won and doubled their wages, but more importantly, the demonstration represented a very important triumph for the American labor movement.
By offering raises only for the white workers, Funsten management had tried to break the strike by inciting racial conflict. A ploy of this kind was successfully used in the 1917 East St Louis, Illinois riots over a decade earlier, but this time the workers remained unified. They were successful and their victory had a tremendous effect in St. Louis in bringing other workers to action such as the clothing workers and ladies’ garment workers.
It's very rare that such a blatant protest blues song was recorded in the 1930s, and it could only have been done in St. Louis. This was well before Woody Guthrie began recording songs and the idea of music as activism - a man finding wrong in the world and using his songs for social justice - was something very unique. Hi Henry Brown's blues music was part-documentary and part-call for action, and like the best of the St. Louis blues, it was about how hopelessness is negated by hope.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
The mistake first appeared around 2002 when someone transcribed the newspaper story into a Usenet posting. The number could be misread as 911, but if you look up the microfilm copy it's obviously 914.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Save the Palladium - Club Plantation building in Grand Center. Collected posts from August/September.
Saturday, August 4, 2012
There have been a lot of postings to the Save-The-Palladium-Building-At-Grand-Center Facebook group -
and they should be posted here as well, so here they are in random order:
There was a strange news report made by the John Cochran VA Medical Center with the misleading title, "Sweetie Pie's offered buyout for VA expansion." Strange, because the VA is not trying to buy Sweetie Pie's, nor do they say they want it, nor do they admit to anything. "Associate Medical Director" Keith Repko, having called the TV station out to interview him, does not discuss his scheme, nor any expansion options such as the surrounding lots, North, East and West, and he makes no acknowledgement of the bigger property next door, the 100 year old Palladium building.
Either they want to scare the new employees of Sweetie Pie's or our Veteran's Administration is playing around to create a false dilemma of which building, the new one or the old one, should be razed.
Could VA Hospital Expansion Force Sweetie Pies Upper Crust Out?
ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) – An expansion is planned for the John Cochran VA Medical Center, but it could affect...
There will be more to come as the effort gains support. Please spread the word and like the Facebok page! Thank you.
Monday, April 16, 2012
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
The St. Louis Club Plantation.
And Floyd Smith.
Benny Goodman wanted him, Charlie Christian was his friend, and he met and jammed with Django Reinhardt. So why doesn’t everybody know St. Louis music legend Floyd Smith?
I first found out about Floyd Smith while interviewing St. Louisan and star of Earl Hines' orchestra, LeRoy Harris. As young boys, Harris and Smith played ukuleles for tips in saloons. Harris would eventually join Earl Hines’ Orchestra and Smith worked in the bands of the St Louis Crackerjacks and the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra. It was while performing at the St. Louis Club Plantation, that Smith began featuring his electric guitar work in the jazz dance band. The Jeter-Pillars’ theme song, Lazy Rhythm, was recorded in the late 1930s and it turned out to be one of those milestone events in American music history, for the tune has the honor of being the first electric guitar solo on a recording. No one could have known at the time, but soon music was going to change from swing orchestras to smaller combos and the guitar would replace the trumpet as the star of the bandstand. And the electric guitar solo would become the aria of the rock and roll genre for a couple of generations.
The sound of St. Louis’ favorite band in the city’s most popular nightclub in 1937 is documented on an Okeh Recording Company 78 rpm record. The Jeter-Pillars Club Plantation Orchestra performs Lazy Rhythm and I Like Pie I Like Cake. This is the first electric guitar solo. The guitar revolution in popular music was still a decade away. And ironically, Chuck Berry lived right down the street, but was well younger than sweet little sixteen at the time.
No one really made a big deal of the pop-culturally seismic event at the time, or how Floyd Smith’s guitar would cause music to change. And this wasn’t merely a fluke either because a couple of years later when Smith was recording with Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy he waxed another historic milestone, Floyd’s Guitar Blues - the very first electric guitar instrumental recording.
Smith went on with the rest of his career while the guitar heroes that came after him took the glory. You'd think that inventing the amplified guitar solo would get a mention in one of the hundreds of those music Halls of Fame and museum-things, but apparently it's not.
Then in 1979, a Guitar Player magazine article about early guitar legends rightfully mentioned Smith’s name, but none of his achievements. Retired in Indianapolis at the time, he felt compelled to correct the inaccuracies in a letter to the editor. Smith seemed proud to say that he taught himself the ukulele and banjo as a young man, but he was modest about his groundbreaking recording of Lazy Rhythm, “I used octaves in my solo. That was the first amplified solo." And for the guitar fans he added that it was done on a Rickenbacker guitar.
"In the Jeter-Pillars band I learned the Hawaiian guitar on which I recorded ‘Floyd's Guitar Blues’ in 1939" he wrote.
He signed the letter proudly with his Musicians Union credentials, "Floyd Smith, St. Louis MO. Life Member, 10-208 Chicago and Local #3 here in Indy."
Certainly the credit for bringing the electric guitar to reign over pop
music belongs to a group of artists like Christian and Berry and others and it's silly to think that individuals can change the course of culture by themselves, but Floyd Smith has never gotten the credit he deserves for his contributions to American music.
And neither did his hometown.
And now the building where he changed music will soon be torn down.