Lonesome Sundown

TrackSingle
Lost Without LoveExcello 45-2092
Leave My Money AloneExcello 45-2092
My Home Is A PrisonExcello 45-2102
I Stood ByExcello 45-2145
Don't GoExcello 45-2145
Learn To Treat Me BetterExcello 45-2174
Lonesome Lonely BluesExcello 45-2202
I'm Glad She's MineExcello 45-2202
My Home Ain't HereExcello 45-2213
I'm Gonna Cut Out On YouExcello 45-2259

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Lonesome Sundown photo

Lonesome Sundown

 

Contributors: Dave Stephens – with Cal Taylor

Life for someone dipping his or her toe into the blues in the early to mid sixties was full of pleasant surprises. First on the list just had to be Chess Records – yes you knew about Berry and Diddley but what about Waters and The Wolf – then there were the Kings, B.B. then Freddie and Albert, then but not necessarily in that order, there was Excello. Out of nowhere an LP appeared on the UK market with the title Authentic R&B in big bright red, orange and white lettering on a black background. In smaller typeface were several names, none of which you’d ever heard of. I still recall reading a review of the record in the NME (or maybe one of the other weeklies). The total lack of familiarity with the artists was more intriguing than off-putting. The date was February 1964. The label was Stateside and the sleeve notes came from a man called Guy Stevens who was already making something of a name for himself in the burgeoning Mod and R&B scene. Guy provided a fine introductory essay on the flip of the sleeve, explaining that the US record label was Excello, that the artists were from Louisiana, and that the record contained in the sleeve was a good introduction to their music – which it was. And there were those exotic names again: Lightnin’ Slim, Slim Harpo, Lonesome Sundown … Almost as if a semi-intoxicated copy writer had looked at the Chess roster with its Sonny Boy’s, Muddy’s etc. and said I can do better than that.

Lonesome Sundown was allotted two tracks on Authentic R&B, just down from the three each for Lightnin’ Slim and Slim Harpo, and probably an indication of the compiler’s view of these artists’ relative importance. Regardless of that, both of these tracks were unusual in that neither featured a harmonica, an instrument that I think, without checking, appeared on every other track. In place there was a quite magnificent sax – which I subsequently learned was courtesy of a gent called Lionel Prevost – plus a pianist, both relatively rare in the early days of Excello swamp blues. I also later learned that the two tracks were sides one and two of Sundown’s ninth single released in 1961. So, to be fair, this wasn’t “relatively early days”; Excello/Crowley blues had got underway via Lightnin’ Slim in 1955.

Lonesome Lonely Blues was a thing of beauty. A minor key slow blues, introduced by the oh-so-lonely sax, and accompanied by a gently stated riff from bass or the lower strings of Sundown’s guitar. Katie Webster drops in arpeggios on the piano and Leroy Washington plays some intricate but ethereal guitar. Above it all the man Jay Miller christened Lonesome Sundown, understated in delivery, but with words that said it all:

So tired
Tired of living here alone (repeat both lines)
I used to have a good woman but now she’s gone

The second track, I’m Glad She’s Mine, had a distinct resemblance to a rolling Texas blues shuffle with some tasty lead guitar from Leroy, snorting sax from Lionel and Ms Webster boogieing away nicely in the background. We also get introduced to a couple of Sundown traits: his use of phrasing and timing to add interest to the vocal, and his ability to create little melodic features that made an otherwise standard medium to up tempo number just that bit more memorable. Note the implied syncopation in the hook line “She’s fine, so fine, I’m glad, so glad she’s mine”.

The fact that Sundown’s music differed considerably from that of other Crowley artists was probably not unrelated to the fact that he was the only one of those artists who had already spent some of his working life outside South West Louisiana. He was born with the name Cornelius Green on the Dugas Plantation near Donaldsonville, south of Baton Rouge. Work in the sugarcane fields occupied his early years, followed by a stint in New Orleans where he held down a wide range of jobs. In 1948 he returned to Donaldsonville and took guitar lessons from his cousin. This was followed by a spell driving trucks for a sugarcane plantation near Jeanerette. In ’53 he moved yet again, this time to Port Arthur, Texas in order to find work with Gulf Oil. Of importance to this story was the fact that he started working in clubs during this period of daytime work.

Another famous Southern Louisiana musician spent time driving trucks for the Gulf and Texaco oil refineries in Port Arthur in the early to mid fifties. That musician was Clifton Chenier who was starting to make a name for himself in ’55 with the Specialty single Ay-Tete Fee (Eh Tite Fille). In order to promote the record he wanted to recruit a band, and Cornelius was lucky, or talented, enough to be selected as second guitar in that band. First guitar was another Port Arthur resident, Phillip Walker. Both men must have gained massive experience from touring with the Clifton Chenier band which included backing popular artists like Lloyd Price, the Clovers and the Cadillacs. (I’m indebted to John Broven whose book “South To Louisiana: The Music Of The Cajun Bayous” provided the bulk of the information in the last two paragraphs.)

Later that same year, Cornelius got married and settled down with his new wife in Opelousas where he started work with a band led by drummer Lloyd Reynaud. Hearing good things about Jay Miller’s studio in Crowley – see the Lightnin’ Slim Toppermost – Cornelius made himself a demo tape and turned up at Miller’s door. Jay liked what he heard and the two sides which made up Cornelius’ first Excello single were created in September 1956 with members of the Lloyd Reynaud band backing. The single was released a month later. And Jay continued the practice of creating new names for artists that he’d started with Lightnin’ Slim. Thus the record came with the performing credit, Lonesome Sundown (since Jay reckoned that Cornelius looked lonesome).

Whichever track was strictly the A-side – and 45cat seems to be confused – let’s look at Lost Without Love first. Anyone who’s read one of the companion pieces to this essay, the Lightnin’ Slim Toppermost, (or listened to the man of course), will be aware that Lightnin’ had a slow blues which appeared with some frequency with new lyrics each time. Sundown took a broadly similar approach but the re-use level was much, much lower. And while the structure bore some similarity to the Lightnin’ slow blues, in reality there were significant differences. In the words of Sundown himself from the period when he was working in that club in Port Arthur “There was a guy there playing Muddy Waters’ “Still A Fool”. The way he would introduce the number is where I got my style, but I already had a style for the blues. I saw so many musicians playing on Saturday night that I got better and better.” (Source: the John Broven book). Muddy picked up that turnaround cum intro riff from an earlier record/performance. He made it his. That unknown guitarist in Port Arthur made it his, and Sundown changed it again and made it one of his signatures.

Just like a bird without a feather baby
You know I’m lost without your love (repeat both lines)
Well I need your loving babe
Just like the angels need heavens above

Sundown had a way with lyrics. Of all the swamp blues men he was the most talented and most interesting in terms of use of words and ideas. Many of his songs are credited to Green, West with West being the pen name used by Jay Miller but even more just have Green against them. I do wonder whether some of those with the West name present were merely Jay using the age old technique of adding his name in order to collect royalties. I wouldn’t even be that critical since this was such a common practice. One would suspect that Sundown turned up with these songs fully formed in his view and Miller might have only added touches of polish.

Both Lost Without Love and its flip, Leave My Money Alone, would seem to have been recorded from way down deep in an echo chamber. Jay obviously had a liking for such techniques much like his peer, Sam Phillips, operating out of Union Avenue, Memphis. Said flip was a tough sounding strut powered along by a riff from Sundown which had a form of metallic intensity. Roughly mid way through Sundown moves into a near yodelling Whoo Whoo and it takes a few seconds to recall that this was the sort of sound that Fats Domino used to break up the verses in some of his songs like The Fat Man. Then Sundown yells “Play that thing boy” and the pianist (Tal Miller), gives us his best Domino impression. Marvellous stuff. And minimal support on both numbers, just Sundown’s dominating guitar, piano and drums. “You don’t want me baby. Why don’t you leave my money alone.”

Sundown made 16 singles for Excello. None of them made the national Pop Chart or the R&B Chart but they sold well locally. On 7th February 1965, he gave up recording and joined the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ where he later became a minister. Before that date he made a number of singles at a high quality level that only started dropping in the later days when record buyers were turning elsewhere and Jay Miller started trying more things to attract them back.

My selections so far might have given the impression that Sundown forbore using the ubiquitous Crowley harmonica player. That was accidental. He did and that man was often the excellent Lazy Lester. Sundown did make much more use of a pianist than any of his peers with that role shared between Tal Miller and Katie Webster. It was also not unusual for a second guitarist to be deployed usually in a lead role.

Lester’s harmonica appears on the up tempo Don’t Go wherein he goes for an impression of Jimmy Reed’s high register style. The minimal melody line has a natural flow to it and if Sundown’s rendition doesn’t persuade that lady to stay I guess nothing will.

Don’t Go was on the flip of Sundown’s fifth single. The A-side was another one of his trademark slow blues and it was one that was amongst his best. I Stood By was not only a great performance with contained agony from Sundown and a lesson in accompaniment from Tal Miller, piano and Leroy Washington, guitar, but it also happened to have some of his very best lyrics:

I stood by and watched another man take my gal (repeat)
It wouldn’t have hurt me so bad but that man was my very best pal

1960 saw Sundown telling his lady “You’d better Learn To Treat Me Better in a suitably emphatic and stompy manner with some rollicking piano from Tal Miller once again. Two records and two years later Sundown painted a picture of himself on the road with phrases like “If anybody ask you who’s that singing that song” and “Just tell ˈem Mr Sundown and he’s been there and gone”. The song was My Home Ain’t Here and it rolled along like the mighty Mississippi with an axe man on board who sounded as if he’d come from the Lone Star State (Leroy Washington).

I’m Gonna Cut Out On You, the B-side of Sundown’s fifteenth Excello single was possibly the best of his late period offerings. Slow blues but minus that familiar opening series of riffs. Instead we got Lionel Prevost’s tenor, gently riffing (and possibly double-tracked) plus some late night guitar, this time from Al Foreman who was yet another regular contributor to Crowley sessions, this one being Sundown’s last. The overall sound was more uptown than down-home but was another illustration of our man’s versatility.

You takes my money and you spend it on your friends (repeat)
Then you come around and see me, when you need more money again

While Sundown’s career at Excello wasn’t jam-packed with hits or even releases, the quality level of his recorded efforts remained consistently high and his material invariably interesting. So much so (in both cases) that making selections turned out to be more difficult than usual. You’ll find below several tracks that didn’t make the cut but Cal or I, or both, felt warranted attention:

I’ve Got The Blues – A near a cappella effort with Sundown seemingly only accompanied by a doo-wop group. After a moment or so the presence of instruments does become apparent but they’re buried well down in the mix. A charming track but unlikely to get approval from blues snobs. And in terms of experimentation this single came as early as single #3 which might come as a surprise.

I Woke Up Crying (Oh What A Dream) – There’s always room to fit in another trademark Sundown slowie and this is a good one with, once again, fine lyrics.

What You Wanna Do It For – A track that didn’t see single release but was kept ‘in the can’, it’s another variant on the “Don’t leave me baby, baby please don’t go” theme but at medium tempo rather than stretched out agony.

Don’t Say A Word – Sundown’s clangy axe sound is back on this, a very deliberate medium tempo effort with our man essaying a curious leap in pitch on the first two words of the title.

If You See My Baby – A more expressive Sundown than usual on a slowie that doesn’t conform to the trademark approach (and is unfortunately only available on YT on the second half of this clip).

I Had A Dream Last Night – Riffing sax backing on a medium to up tempo rocker that’s pitched somewhere between jump blues and New Orleans rhumba style.

You’re Playin’ Hookey – A more poppy styling but bear in mind that this and the previous track come from that late period of Miller experimentation. It’s actually quite attractive with a jumping bass and some resemblance to early ska.

Please Be On That 5:19 – A return to blues roots (for a late record) and a train song, so, yes, it had to get at least a mention.

My final track, My Home Is A Prison, is in the selections and it appeared as early as single number 2. Although that intro lets you know immediately it’s a trademark Sundown slowie, it’s among his best in this vein and is probably his most well known number. Some trace of echo is still present which is possibly fitting for the sombre if not slightly melodramatic nature of the lyrics. And this time those lyrics definitely were written by Jay Miller. Sundown himself has confirmed this. What’s more Jay actually wrote the song at the session (source: John Broven’s book). What might just have been metaphor in the first line later turns out to be totally real in song terms, as Sundown/Jay confesses to his crime. Miller with his Nashville song writing experience might well have had more of a penchant for a cliché than Sundown but his directness was well judged given the nature of his audience.

My home is a prison and I’m living in a world of tears
I’ve been in misery since the judge gave me ninety nine years

Sundown did get tempted back into a music studio in later years resulting in the release of two albums, Been Gone Too Long in 1977 (from Joliet) and From LA To L.A. in 1982 (Rounder). The second of the pair is credited to both Phillip Walker and Lonesome Sundown. In fact, Walker actually played in a support role on the earlier album. That set is perfectly pleasing but owes more to tastes then prevailing in blues than Sundown’s Crowley heritage. From LA To L.A. is a more curious affair combining (and alternating) outtakes from the ’77 set with more recent recordings from Walker. This is an example of that set, the evocatively titled Crawl Back To Opelousas.

Sundown appeared at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1979 and toured Sweden and Japan (with Phillip Walker). He suffered a stroke in 1994 and died in Gonzales, Louisiana in April 1995.

Lonesome Sundown is the least celebrated of all the artists who have the label ‘swamp blues’ associated with them – Spotify, for example, has the Joliet album only and very few tracks from the key Excello period. And yet in my opinion Sundown was the most accomplished of all the Crowley swamp blues artists, more technically fluent than most and possessing a voice that was capable of expression over a range of varied material even if not as immediately distinctive as that of Lightnin’ Slim. He also had the ability to coax a natural swing from his musical collaborators to arguably a greater extent than his peers. However, what really sets him apart is his song writing. While it will probably never be entirely clear how much Jay Miller contributed to some of the songs, it’s highly likely that those which revolve around the day to day intricacies of human relationships i.e. those which really strike home, were of a semi or even wholly autobiographical nature, so would have come from Sundown himself.

In 1969, Excello released a compilation of his tracks under the simple title of Lonesome Sundown. Bruce Bromberg wrote the sleeve notes and commented:

“As a blues singer Lonesome Sundown has few equals. He has a rich strong voice – not frantic but intense. His guitar style is tough and recognisable as his own.”

and, bearing in mind this set came out prior to the 1977 Joliet ‘comeback’, he closed the notes in the following manner:

“It is sad now that his first LP is to be released, Lonesome Sundown has disappeared from the blues scene; doubly sad when one considers the number of records by lesser blues artists that are experiencing much success. Hopefully this album will bring to Lonesome Sundown the recognition he rightfully deserves.”

That wasn’t copywriter blurb. Bruce Bromberg is recognised as an expert in the field of blues music and has produced albums from several of the greats. In 2011 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. But no, his optimism was unfounded. Outside of those wonderful people at Ace Records UK (who have the best compilation available of Sundown’s music) plus, of course, John Broven and a few other souls like yours truly, Lonesome Sundown’s standing in the blues world is largely unrecognised.

Go back and check out some of those numbers. You won’t be disappointed.

 

FOOTNOTES

1. The Swamp Blues series on Toppermost covers discs from four of the key artists who recorded blues at Jay Miller’s Crowley studio from the mid fifties to the early/mid sixties. They are Lightnin’ Slim, Lonesome Sundown, Slim Harpo and Lazy Lester. Swamp Blues #5 is nominally allocated to another Crowley/Excello artist, Silas Hogan, but in fact covers other minor Excello artists plus artists whose records appeared on other Louisiana labels. The latter grouping are just as deserved of the ‘swamp blues’ label but have tended to receive less attention than the Excello artists.

The Lightnin’ Slim Toppermost contains discussion on the subject of swamp blues and information on the Excello Records label plus J.D. (Jay) Miller and his studio in Crowley, Louisiana.

2. My third sentence in the first paragraph reads:

“Out of nowhere an LP appeared on the UK market with the title Authentic R&B in big bright red, orange and white lettering on a black background. In smaller typeface were several names, none of which you’d ever heard of.”

Cal has pointed out that not all of us were in such a complete state of ignorance at the time. He bought a Slim Harpo single in 1961. That single was Rainin’ In My Heart / Don’t Start Cryin’ Now on Pye International. Pye were evidently encouraged by the success of the record in the US and decided to take a punt on it (see also the Slim Harpo Toppermost – coming soon).

3. As stated in the main text, the album Authentic R&B was released by Stateside on vinyl in 1964. Its success was such that a follow-up LP, The Real R&B was released following broadly the same format. Ace Records UK subsequently reissued both sets in CD format with extra tracks added. Ace then followed with a third album in the series, Genuine R&B, with contents once again coming from Excello. At the time of writing, only The Real R&B is in print; the other two are available but at inflated prices.

4. Singer and guitarist Phillip Walker was born in Louisiana but brought up in Port Arthur, Texas. His guitar work was based on that of Texas pioneer, T-Bone Walker. Following a similar career pattern to T-Bone, Phillip based himself in Los Angeles from 1959 onwards and had a local hit that year with a rocker, Hello My Darling. However he’s probably better known to blues fans via his albums which appeared with some frequency on several record labels including Rounder, Black Top and Alligator. He died from a heart attack in 2010 at the age of 73. Port Arthur Blues from the 1984 Rounder album Tough As I Want To Be is a good example of his work.

5. Tenor sax player Lionel Prevost who usually recorded under the name Lionel Torrence was a key figure in black and white music in Southern Louisiana in the fifties and sixties. Not only did he record blues, R&B, zydeco, swamp pop and Cajun, he also appeared live with a wide array of artists including Clifton Chenier for whom he took all the solos not performed by the great man himself. By the second half of the sixties Lionel’s activities had extended to work with James Brown, Bobby Bland, Etta James and many, many more.

6. From the editor: Dave refers to Lonesome’s lyric in My Home Ain’t Here – “If anybody ask you who’s that singing that song, just tell ˈem Mr Sundown and he’s been there and gone” – and it struck a chord with me, so to speak. The earliest example I could find was from Leadbelly’s The Boll Weevil: “If anybody asks you people who sang you this song, tell ’em it was Huddie Ledbetter, he done been here and gone.” Maybe he added his line to this traditional song as an afterthought – anybody know an earlier “done been here and gone”?

7. For those not keen on investing in the excellent John Broven book (see link below), Cal has unearthed a very good feature on Lonesome Sundown from Jeff Hannusch. It diverges slightly from the Broven version in that it places Sundown in Beaumont rather than Port Arthur when the recruitment to the Clifton Chenier band occurred but otherwise it’s similar and expands on the stories in some places.

 

Lonesome Sundown Jay Miller photo

 

Lonesome Sundown (1928–1995)

 

Lonesome Sundown discography

“South To Louisiana: The Music Of The Cajun Bayous” by John Broven (1983)

Excello singles discography

Excello albums discography

Lonesome Sundown biography (iTunes)

Swamp Blues toppermost series
#1 Lightnin’ Slim
#2 Lonesome Sundown
#3 Slim Harpo
#4 Lazy Lester
#5 Silas Hogan

Swamp Pop toppermost series
#1 Rod Bernard
#2 Cookie and the Cupcakes
#3 Jimmy Donley
#4 Bobby Charles
#5 Freddy Fender

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

Cal Taylor has avidly collected records since the early 1960s, gravitating to deep soul and blues. As time went on he got more and more into studying pre-war blues and accumulated a vast record collection. Cal saw many such artists live in the sixties. He has written several posts for this site including Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Redding and Betty Harris.

The Stephens/Taylor toppermosts include Johnny Ace, Arthur Alexander, Cyril Davies, The Falcons, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Alexis Korner, Johnny Otis, Junior Parker, T-Bone Walker.

TopperPost #712

10 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Apr 19, 2018

    Dave and Cal, thanks for this great piece. Didn’t know anything about Lonesome Sundown before this but his guitar style is unique. Also loved the sax on ‘Lonesome Lonely Blues’.
    And, Merric I did find this: “And they would start cryin’ and singin’ this song, They tell me, Joe Turner been here and gone’ from a W.C. Handy song, “Joe Turner’s Blues’ written in 1915. Not quite the same thing but close. And according to the reference to String Beans here, it seems to go back even further.

  2. Cal Taylor
    Apr 20, 2018

    Andrew, glad you liked the Lonesome Sundown Toppermost. Of all the Excello artists he was the most individual and, more so than the others, needs a couple of listens to appreciate his dexterity and subtlety.
    Your added info about ‘Joe Turner’ and ‘String Beans’ intrigued me and set me on a full day of research which has enabled me to find many facts of which I was not aware before. Here’s just a brief synopsis:-
    The Joe Turner in ‘Joe Turner Blues’ was nothing to do with a singer but was, in fact, a Tennessee government officer whose real name was Joe T(o)urney which over decades got corrupted to Joe Turner. It was his job in the 1890’s to round up felons (often on trumped up charges) to work on chain gangs. So when told, “Joe Turner been here and gone” the women would start crying because it meant they knew their men had been rounded up and taken.
    ‘String Beans’, real name Butler May, sang, “Jus’ tell ’em String Beans been here, done got his, an’ gone”. He was part of a vaudeville touring group ‘The Chocolate Drops Company’ that included Jelly Roll Morton and Ma Rainey. He died under bizarre circumstances in 1917, aged only 23. He died before Blues was recorded and although he is said to have written many songs, the lyrics of which later appeared in well known recorded Blues, none were registered by him. Like all folk lore over time it evolves, so although similar words might be used often the original story is lost and the meaning gets changed.

    • Ahkiel
      Aug 23, 2018

      I actually had the experience of having Lonesome play around my family and he, along with my Uncle Milton Lazard, taught me his signature chord (they recorded together a record called “Kidnapper”), I was just around 8-10 years old at the time. He lived for a while with my grandparents I am told. I used to watch him with his guitar on his big motorcycle drive off into the sunset, while many of the children, myself included ran behind him as he disappeared down the road. It was always a sense of excitement when he would make it back. I do have questions regarding his biological family, there is never a mention of who his parents etc. were ie… did he have children? As I stated I was told that he lived with my grandparents and their children and was considered part of the family, however he seemed to drift quite a bit. If anyone knows of his kin, please pass the information on – it would mean so much to know about this man that hung around my family in Opelousas, Louisiana and thanks for keeping his legacy alive, Peace

      • Dave Stephens
        Aug 23, 2018

        Ahkiel, thanks for your Comment which might well be one of the most evocative I’ve seen, and I suspect Cal might concur. Those are memories you’ll treasure forever. Toppermost is full of surprises; I started out by stating that Lonesome Sundown was arguably the most obscure of the swamp blues men but he’s generated more Comments than any of the others.

  3. Andrew Shields
    Apr 20, 2018

    Thanks for this Cal – fascinating stuff. Apparently the epitaph on String Beans headstone reads ‘String Beans been here, made his quick duck and got away.’ Seems to have been a very important figure in the early history of the blues.

  4. Steve Paine
    May 2, 2018

    Another gem on a more-than-worthy but almost-forgotten bluesman. Thanks, Dave and Cal. And a thought struck me. What, beyond wanting to pick a memorable alias in the blues tradition, inspired the stage-name “Lonesome Sundown”? I was reminded of the lyrics to Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads Blues”, in which he expresses his urgency to catch a ride, and says:
    “Standin’ at the crossroad, baby, risin’ sun goin’ down
    Standin’ at the crossroad, baby, eee-eee, risin’ sun goin’ down
    I believe to my soul, now, poor Bob is sinkin’ down.”
    I recall reading a piece years ago by an ethnomusicologist who took an educated guess at the meaning of the tune’s lyrics. He said that in the Deep South, Black Codes often included a sundown curfew for Blacks, and even where they didn’t, it was dangerous for Blacks to be out after dark.

    • Dave Stephens
      May 5, 2018

      Glad you enjoyed it Steve but I don’t have the origin of Sundown’s nomenclature other than to say that Jay Miller, who must have come up with it, probably had a pretty good idea of the source of many lyrics being a songwriter himself. Mind you his background was country so we could be looking into the wrong culture altogether. But Cal might like to comment since his experience (and recall) of early black music is considerably better than mine.

      • Steve Paine
        May 6, 2018

        Good point. He might just have been lonesome at sundown.

  5. Andrew Shields
    May 6, 2018

    First reference I could find to ‘Hate to see that [evening] sun going down’ comes from the ‘St. Louis Blues’ by W.C Handy, written in around 1914. A version by Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong can be heard here.

  6. Cal Taylor
    May 8, 2018

    Glad you liked the Lonesome Sundown Toppermost, Steve. What you said about the ‘sundown curfew’ is right in that many Blacks in the southern states had good reason to fear that dangerous time after sundown.
    Thanks too, Andrew, for the ‘sun going down’ reference in song going back as far as 1914 – which I am convinced went back many more decades than that, when many songs went unregistered.
    Lonesome Sundown’s name? I think it is as simple, as Dave said, that he was given that name by Jay Miller (who seemed to name most of his Excello artists), who thought he looked lonesome. But if that is so, what made Jay think of ‘Lonesome Sundown’? My guess would be that it came from the popular Blues song ‘In The Evening When The Sun Goes Down’ (with a few variations of that title). It was originally recorded by Leroy Carr in 1935 (see Johnny Otis Toppermost footnote 17) but was done by other well known artists subsequently including Wynonie Harris, Jimmy Witherspoon and Charles Brown in the late 1940s plus T-Bone Walker in 1954. Jay Miller certainly would have been aware of the song. Leroy’s lyrics …
    In the evening, in the evening
    Mama, when the sun goes down
    In the evening, baby, when the sun goes down
    Well, ain’t it lonesome, ain’t it lonesome, babe
    When your love is not around, when the sun goes down
    So, Steve, your second guess is good – he was lonesome at sundown! And, finally, there is a link with Robert Johnson, who you mentioned, in that the melody line of his ‘Love In Vain’ is copied directly from Leroy’s ‘(In The Evening) When The Sun Goes Down’.

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