The Online Roots of Rock

The Online Roots of Rock
crazy blues - perry bradford
Mamie Smith

Robert Johnson
February 14, 1895 – April 20, 1970

"Overlooked Blues/Jazz Pioneer"

Perry Bradford and Jeanette
Perry Bradford - Crazy Blues
Perry Bradford and his Jazz Phools
Perry Bradford
LEFT: From 1909–1918 Bradford performed in a song-and-dance duo with Jeanette Taylor. They travelled widely, and Bradford absorbed much black culture that he incorporated into his songs. LEFT CENTER: Mamie Smith's 1920 recording of his song, Crazy Blues, was a monster hit that started the Classic Blues era of the 1920s. RIGHT CENTER: Bradford's career faltered through the 1920s. Perry Bradford and his Jazz Phools recorded from 1923–1927 with little success. RIGHT: Multi-talented Perry Bradford was an aggressive black publisher in a white publishing world, and was blackballed and almost forgotten. Contemporary music historians now recognize his many and significant contributions in the formative years of Blues and Jazz.

“Everything happens for a reason.
Who knew that the style Perry was developing in the Twenties
would lead to Rock and Roll?”
— Little Richard

Perry Bradford
John Henry Perry Bradford was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1895.1 His family moved to Atlanta in 1901.
In Atlanta, the Bradford family lived adjacent to the Fulton Street Jail where, as a youth, Perry heard black inmates singing Blues and other black folk songs.
He would often visit Decatur Street, the black district in Atlanta, to learn singing, dancing and piano from the black entertainers.
In 1906 he joined Allen's New Orleans Minstrels, and then worked a spell as a solo pianist in Chicago.
From about 1909–1918 he performed in a song -and-dance duo with Jeanette Taylor — Bradford and Jeanette. They travelled widely and Bradford absorbed much black culture which he incorporated into his songs. He published these songs as sheet music,2 which he sold after his performances.
In 1918 he settled in New York City and, instead of peddling his own sheet music, sold his songs to white publisher, Frederick V. Bowers.
In that same year, to publicize his songs, he and other actors produced the Made in Harlem Revue which featured cabaret singer, Mamie Smith, singing his title song, Harlem Blues.
Bradford was impressed with Mamie, and felt she could help him sell his conviction that there was a huge, untapped black audience eager to buy authentic black recordings sung by blacks.3

"I thought our folks had a story to tell,
and it only could be told in vocal, not
instrumental, recordings."
— Perry Bradford

He finally convinced Fred Hager at OKeh Records to schedule a recording session for February 14, 1920, to record Mamie Smith singing two Bradford songs, That Thing Called Love 4 and You Can't Keep A Good Man Down. Both songs were backed by OKeh's white studio band, the Milo Rega Orchestra. Essentially these were two Pop songs with a slight Jazz and Blues feel.
The two songs sold 10,000 copies within a month, which was enough to prove Bradford's point, and to warrant a follow-up session, on August 10, 1920, to record another two of Bradford's songs, It's Right Here For You and Crazy Blues. But this time both songs were backed by Bradford's hand-picked black band, the Jazz Hounds.
Crazy Blues was a sensation, quickly selling 75,000 copies.
Other record labels scrambled to sign black female singers. This marked the beginning of the Classic Blues era and, more importantly, opened the door for all black Blues and Jazz musicians on the newly-created "race" labels.

"Fourteen million Negroes will buy records
if recorded by one of their own."
— Perry Bradford pitch to record labels

From this momentous high, Bradford's career slowly began to decline.
Bradford's publishing problems started with the success of Crazy Blues. The lyrics of this song were identical to his Harlem Blues, a song for which he sold the publishing rights. In fact, by his own admission, ". . . I feared what would happen if the song became a big hit, because I had used the same lyrics three times before." 5
In 1921 he was sued for selling a song to more than one publisher. This was settled out-of-court.6
In 1922 he was again sued: this time for publishing a song owned by another publisher. This suit also involved perjury of a character witness. Bradford was sentenced to four months in prison.7
At some point he decided life might be simpler if he kept the rights to his songs and built his own publishing empire. He was very aware of the money to be made in publishing based on royalties received as a songwriter.
Consequently, through the 1920s, he built four publishing companies that eventually owned the publishing rights to about 1,400 songs. But this proved to be his undoing.
As a publisher he needed to market records, but his catalog of songs was blackballed by the recording industry. As Bradford didn't have the resources to manufacture and distribute his own records, he was left out in the cold.
Through the 1920s Bradford was active with several early Jazz bands
In 1923, needing to do something exceptional to put his career back on track, Bradford assembled a Jazz band with greats such as Louis Armstrong, James P Johnson and Buster Bailey. Perry Bradford and his Jazz Phools recorded from 1923–1927 without much success.
Bradford continued composing for musical revues through the 1920s without much impact. In 1927 he was moved to write, All I Have is Gone.
In 1940, Bradford copyrighted Keep A-Knockin', but there were several versions of the song prior to 1940. It was a big hit for Little Richard in 1957.
In 1965, feeling an outcast in the very music he fostered, Bradford felt compelled to published his book, Born With The Blues, in which he describes "the true story of the pioneering Blues singers and musicians in the early days of Jazz." In this book he attempts to debunk much music history as we know it.
Perry Bradford — the man whose historic song, Crazy Blues, opened the door for commercial black music — spent his latter years on relief, living in poor health in a nursing home.
He died on April 20, 1970.

* * *

Perry Bradford was a difficult talent for the music industry to embrace because of his many transgressions. But, in retrospect, contemporary music historians now acknowledge his many and significant contributions in the formative years of Blues and Jazz.
Crazy Blues was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994.

Many sources give Bradford's birth year as 1893, but Bradford states, in his book, Born With The Blues (page 17), that he was born in 1895 as recorded in his family bible.
Up to and through the 1910s most music was published as sheet music. It wasn't until nearly 1920 that record sales exceeded sheet music sales.
3 Up to this date, 1920, Blues recordings were sung by white singers, most notably Sophie Tucker, Marion Harris and Aileen Stanley. Bert Williams, the first black performer to record, sang novelty songs, like his 1906, Nobody, to a white audience.
On February 21, 1920, the Jazz Hounds recorded an instrumental version of That Thing Called Love, making it possibly the first instrumental recording of a black Jazz band.
Bradford, Perry. Born With The Blues (Oak Publications: 1965) p 124
6 Kernfield, Barry. "Perry Bradford," Harlem Renaissance Lives. Edited by Henry Louis Gates and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham ( Oxford University Press: 2009) p 66.
7 Ibid.

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Perry Bradford Wikipedia
Perry Bradford Red Hot Jazz
bio / discography


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Born With the Blues
Perry Bradford - Born with the Blues
The true story of the pioneering blues singers and musicians in the early days of Jazz
175 pages
by Perry Bradford

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Perry Bradford
A Panorama
Perry Bradford
I Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle
Perry Bradford
& The Blues Singers
Perry Bradford - A Panorama cd
Perry Bradford - I Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle
Perry Bradford and The Blues Singers
Timeless (Holland)
1 CD / 26 tracks
also mp3s
Frog (UK)
1 CD / 25 tracks
1 CD / 26 tracks
also mp3s

The Perry Bradford Story
Pioneer of The Blues
Perry Bradford Story cd
Folkways Records
1 CD / 11 tracks

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