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Johnny Watson, alias Daddy Stovepipe was born in Mobile, Alabama, on April 12th 1867 and died in Chicago, November 1st 1963. A veteran of the turn of the century medicine shows, he was in his late fifties when he became one of the first blues harp players to appear on record in 1924. He later recorded with his wife, Mississippi Sarah, in the 1930s and spent his last years as a regular performer on Chicago's famous Maxwell Street, where he made his last recordings (issued on LP as Collector's Issue C-5527, now long out of print)

About the same time as he made his first recordings, another singer was recorded under the name of Stovepipe No.1. These two musicians make an interesting contrast. Both singers accompanied themselves on harmonica and guitar, but Johnny Watson gained his nickname from the stovepipe hat he wore, whereas Stovepipe No.1 (Sam Jones from Cincinnati) actually played a stovepipe, in a manner similar to a jug. Daddy Stovepipe played the blues almost exclusively on his early records, but used a straight harp style more associated with white folk music. Stovepipe No.1 on the other hand used a bluesy cross harp style, but his issued recordings featured primarily non-blues material.

By 1960, when he was recorded by Paul Oliver, Watson's repertoire had broadened following many years of busking throughout the country and he was performing such songs as "Tennessee Waltz", though with an exuberance rare for a man in his nineties.

I have transcribed a typical piece of Watson's playing, the introduction to "Stovepipe Blues"1. The recording seems to be in the key of C#, but as C# harps were not available in the twenties, I presume Watson is playing a C harp and the recording has been sped up. The solo is simple, but very effective, played in the middle octave of the harp (unusual for a blues piece - most blues straight harp concentrates on the upper or lower octave.) The song later modulates to the key of F and Watson finishes the song in the key of F on his C harp (again an unusual position in blues harp playing). Try to hear the original to get the feel of Stovepipe's playing.


1. Reissued on Alabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924 - 1949 (Document DOCD-5166). Click here for more details from Amazon.com or click here for more details from Amazon.co.uk

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