The Beale Street Sheiks (1927-1929) by Frank Stokes & Dan Sane

Label: Document Records
Release Date: 1990
Releases: July 15, 1991; September 8, 2000
Recording Time: 56 minutes
Recording Date: August, 1927 - March, 1929

Styles: Acoustic Memphis Blues, Pre-War Country Blues, Regional Blues

Forget the shaky sound and noise on some of the tracks, and the slightly sketchy notes, and the fact that some tracks on this supposedly "complete" collection are missing -- these are Paramount recordings, and we're lucky to have what we do, as good as it does sound. What's here are 19 songs cut by Frank Stokes and Dan Sane between August of 1927 and March of 1929. Included are lyrics on numbers like "You Shall" (in two different versions, either one worth the price of the disc) that constitute historical artifacts, going back to the era of slavery; topical songs like "Mr. Crump Don't Like It," that tell of Memphis's life and death as a blues Mecca; and infectiously catchy pieces like the sly, witty, supposedly anti-prostitution pieces like "It's a Good Thing" (also in two different versions). At their best, which is most of this CD, they had an appeal that transcended the decades -- the interweaving of the two guitars is about as tight as anything in blues, the rhythms are catchy, and the vocal phrasing by Stokes is delicious.
by Bruce Eder

Frank Stokes, vocals, guitar.
Dan Sane, vocals, guitar.
Informative booklet notes by Chris Smith.

Document Records:
It was in 1927 that Frank Stokes and Dan Sane made their first recordings for Paramount, by which time they were one of the tightest guitar duos in blues, with Sane’s flat-picked embellishments sliding through Stokes’ strong but nimble rhythms like fish through the sea. “Jazzin’ The Blues”, whose title defers to fashion, has one sung verse, but is thereafter an instrumental showpiece, with Stokes calling out the chord changes (doubtless already agreed) to Sane. Outside music, Stokes worked as a blacksmith, and his guitar playing has a metalworker’s combination of strength and precision. He was also blessed with an exceptionally powerful voice, and impressive breath control, as may be heard on It’s “A Good Thing”. The two men were billed as the Beale Street Sheiks, and Stokes songs often refer to Memphis, as on “Beale Town Bound” and “Mr. Crump Don’t Like It”, a topical adaptation of “Mama Don’t Allow” that refers to local politician E.H. Crump, a segregationist, but one who realised the value of black votes. Along with the blues that became popular when they were growing up, Stokes and Sane played older, medicine show and minstrel songs like “Last Go Round”. “You Shall” includes verses that date back to slavery, and “Chicken, You Can Roost Behind The Moon” is related to a song published in 1899. In his blues, Stokes projects an image of himself as a rounder, playing the field with women; “It’s A Good Thing” is a sly, extended joke on this image, with Stokes attacking prostitution, but concluding that “one woman’ll never do” for him.
In 1928, the duo switched to Victor (see Document DOCD-5013), but they returned to Paramount for one session in 1929, from which six songs were issued, with a seventh surviving as a test pressing. They were still combining blues with the hokum of the medicine show and the street: “Wasn’t That Doggin’ Me” lies somewhere between the two, and “Rockin’ On The Hill Blues” features crosstalk that still sounds funny and spontaneous, even when Sane uses the most overworked slogan of black music in the ‘20s, “Tight like that!” They were fond of a little figure in dotted rhythm; it occurs several times on their records, never more effectively than on “Hunting Blues”, where it appropriately mimics the hunters’ horn call.
Original 78 rpm records of the Beale Street Sheiks fall into the “extremely rare” category, suggesting that their records sold in low quantities, perhaps poorly. Perhaps the duo’s style sounded a little aged for the record buying public who also had the choice of the merriment and “low down, dirty blues” of the Memphis Jug Band or the slick slide guitar playing of the young Furry Lewis or the driving blues of the feisty Memphis Minnie. Yet the music of the Sheiks is regarded as a pure delight and a wonderful insight into blues carried forward by two older men who were there at the beginning.

Credits: Johnny Parth - producer; Dan Sane - guitar, primary artist, speech / speaker / speaking part; Chris Frazer Smith - liner notes; Frank Stokes - guitar, primary artist, vocals.

Tracks: 1) You shall (4771); 2) It`s a good thing (4772); 3) Sweet to mama; 4) Half cup of tea; 5) Beale town bound; 6) Last go round; 7) Jazzin` the blues; 8) You shall (20043); 9) It`s a good thing (20044); 10) Mr. Crump don`t like it; 11) Chicken you can roost behind the moon; 12) Blues in D; 13) Ain`t goin` to do like I used to do; 14) Hunting blues; 15) Rockin` on the hill blues; 16) Fillin` in blues, part 1; 17) Fillin` in blues, part 2; 18) Wasn`t that doggin` me; 19) Jumpin` on the hill.