About Black Bob from Charlie West and Big Joe Duskin
Black Bob sightings are rare birds, so I decided to publish two Black Bob testimoniancies from musicians like Charlie West and Big Joe Duskin.
Let’s start with an interview to Charlie West, first published on “Blues World #44” in 1972 by my friend Bob Eagle.
Charlie was born in Andalusia, Alabama, on 27 September 1914. There were no musicians in his immediate family though after the family moved to Cincinnati in 1923 his father Kendrick West ran a “joint”. Charlie recalls Leroy Carr coming across the river from Covington, Kentucky, to play there. He also remembers pianist Jack O’Diamonds in Cincinnati when he was 12 to 13 years old.
Charlie’s singing career began in 1926 when he sang with Leroy Carr in Covington. By 1927 or 1928 he had moved to Locklin (Lockland?) Ohio, where he sang behind Little Jimmy and Black Jack, both pianists. About this time he remembers Bessie Smith visiting his grandmother. When he saw Carr, Leroy was by himself, not with Scrapper Blackwell or any other guitarist.
On 1 September 1929, Charlie arrived in Chicago. After six months or so in the city he met Big Bill Broonzy who was then playing with Black Jack, the pianist from Ohio, As well as his singing Charlie was playing piano and obtaining kazoo effects by blowing through his lips. When asked, he said he “just picked it up.”
Eventually Bill took him to a session for Bluebird in Aurora, Illinois. Bill backed him on guitar and Black Jack on piano. Yes, Black Jack is the same man as Black Bob! Charlie’s memory of the session was vague and he had no memory at first of his later session in Chicago at all. (Later he recalled making some sides on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago but could recall no details. )
When questioned about the other artists who recorded for Bluebird when he did, he thought John D. Twitty was a guitarist, could not recall Little Bill, and remembered that Merline Johnson had died.
He said that “Tampa” made a comeback in the ’60s but had since died. He had lived near Michigan and 51st Street in Chicago. He remembered his first name as Johnny but his surname eluded him. Obviously this is not Tampa Red, who is still living on the Southside. (Nor does it seem to be Johnnie Temple, because he could not remember the surname and ,’Tampa” was only a nickname. )
Chris Strachwitz suggested John Henry Barbee and I’m inclined to agree, as it seems that this was in fact Barbee’s correct name. (Charlie Pickett recalls Barbee and his brother Charlie Barbee from Henning, Tennessee, in the early thirties, before Barbee recorded. Homesick James said Barbee was the correct name. Furthermore Paul Oliver’s liner notes on Barbee’s Storyville album are illogical in that they assume acceptance of Barbee’s tale of how he changed his name, because they posit a change of name after the session.)
Why then did West know him as, “Tampa”? Barbee’s later work shows him to be a good imitator of styles, (and in fact at his Vocalion session he made one of Wheatstraw’s songs) so perhaps he was earlier an imitation of Tampa Red. Was Barbee in fact Tampa Kid on Decca?
I have been unable to contact Charlie to check this theory but perhaps another collector will have the opportunity to do so.
Charlie remembers working with Sunnyland Slim, Memphis Slim, Muddy Waters and Little Walter and the Yas Yas Girl. He met Roosevelt Sykes in Missouri in 1938.
Other pianists he remembers are Eddy Morgan, whom he met in Cincinnati and thinks is now in Iowa; “45” and “Splow Joe”, both in Chicago. He also recalls “Porkchop”, a tap dancer and drummer in Chicago.
After his record sessions, Charlie worked as a pianist in good time houses at $2.50 an hour until about 1947. Then he took a job at the Howard steel mill, as a grinder and sander, which he held until 1958. In the meantime, around Christmas of 1949 or 1950 he injured his left wrist in a fall and found it painful to play piano for any length of time. He has played little since, although apparently he is still able to play.
Charlie met Carey in 1958 when Carey had a trio. Subsequently Carey married Charlie’s daughter Dorothy.
Charlie West now works as a maintenance man and occasionally sings with Carey’s groups. He is keen to make a comeback as a singer and Carey is trying to persuade him to take up the piano seriously again. Charlie is young as prewar artists go and should be able to take good advantage of any opportunity.”
Black Bob played with Charlie West on :
|Rolling Stone Blues||07637-1-BB B7033||Aurora, Ill., May 4 1937|
|Eithel May||07638-1-BB B7033||Aurora, Ill., May 4 1937|
|Poor Boy Blues||07639-1-BB unissued||Aurora, Ill., May 4 1937|
|Hobo Blues||07640-1-BB B8085||Aurora, Ill., May 4 1937|
Actually published on Document Records DOCD-5427.
Another testimoniancy came from Cincinnati blues & boogie woogie piano player, Big Joe Duskin, interviewed by Barry Lee Pearson. This interview could be found in Pearson’s 2005 book “Jook Right On: Blues Stories and Blues Storytellers“.
“There was a guy by the name of Blackjack; I learned a lot from him. He was a black fellow. Blackjack would go house to house; wherever there was a piano you’d hear him. And he’d see me, he’d say, “Come in here, Little Duskin, and play. I got to go another place.“
A rambling legend, whose life will be always outlined only in his recordings.