Archive for the ‘Mississippi Sheiks’ Category

Bo Carter

August 23, 2014



The Mississippi Sheiks grew out of a string band formed by members of the highly musical Chatmon family, who resided on the Gaddis and McLaurin plantation just outside the small town of Bolton, Mississippi. The father of the family was Henderson Chatmon, a sharecropper of mixed racial origins who had been a fiddler since the days of slavery. With his wife Eliza, he reportedly had thirteen children, eleven of which were sons who all played musical instruments.

From around 1910 until 1928, seven of them formed a string band known as the Chatmon Brothers, and they performed at country dances, parties and picnics. As Sam Chatmon related to Paul Oliver in 1960: “We started out from our parents-it’s just a gift that we had in the family.  …I played bass violin for them, and Lonnie, he played lead violin and Harry he played second violin. And my brother Larry, he beat the drums. And my brother Harry, he played the piano you see. And my brother Bo (Carter) he played the guitar too and he even used to play tenor banjo.

On his landmark trip to the United States in 1960, Paul Oliver came across Bo Carter and recounted the following in Conversation With The Blues:

“Sharing a corner in the bare, shot-gun building on South 4th Street where Will Shade lived, was an ailing, blind, light-skinned man whom the occupants knew only as Old Man. By a lucky hunch I guessed he might be Bo Carter and the sick man brightened to hear his name.

At first he could hardly hold down the strings of his heavy steel guitar with its worn fingerboard. But he slowly mastered it and in a broken voice, that mocked the clear and lively singing on his scores of recordings under his own name and with the Mississippi Sheiks, he recalled incidents from his varied life and some of the songs that had made him one of the most famous of blues singers. Baby When You Marry he had recorded nearly thirty years before (OK 8888) in 1931 and in the years since he had worked on medicine shows, farmed and begged.”

As Carter related: “Well, we called us the Mississippi Sheiks, all of us Chatmons, cause my name’s Bo Chatman only they called me Bo Carter. We toured with the band right through the country; through the Delta, through Louisiana down to New Orleans… …Tell ya, we was the Mississippi sheiks and when we went to make the records in Jackson, Mississippi, the feller wanted to show us how to stop and start the records. Try to tell us when we got to begin and how we got to end. And you know, I started not to make ’em! I started not to make ’em ’cause he wasn’t no muscianer, so how could he tell me to stop and start the song? We was the Sheiks, Mississippi Sheiks and you know we was famous.”


Third Man Records

June 8, 2013

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Bo Carter and the Mississippi Sheiks on JSP

February 16, 2012



100 cuts by Bo Carter, The Mississippi Sheiks, The Jackson Blue Boys, Mississippi Mud Steppers, Walter Vincent, Charlie McCoy, Mississppi Blacksnakes, Texas Alexander, Charlie McCoy & Bo Carter, The Chatman Brothers.


The Chatman Brothers – Lonnie, Sam, Bo and Harry with Walter Vinson and Charlie McCoy were a musical force to be reckoned with down around Bolton, Mississippi in the early 1930s performing and recording in various line-ups of hot string bands that included The Jackson Blue Boys, Chatman’s Foot Stompers, The Mississippi Mud Steppers and The Chatman Brothers. Most ferociously prolific of all were The Mississippi Sheiks who loped around country juke joints, white dances, barbeques and roadhouses blasting out their reels, rags, hard blues and hokum numbers.

Every now and then some assortment of Chatman musicians would enter the studio and out would come a hot number that would reverberate around the south – songs like Sittin’ On Top Of The World, She’s Crazy About Her Loving, Sales Tax, Bootleggers Blues, Stop And Listen Blues and other powerful stuff like the two tracks Bob Dylan took up on ‘World Gone Wrong’ sixty-odd years later, I Got Blood In My Eyes For You and The World Is Going Wrong.

Chatman brother Bo, known as Bo Carter, soon realised that he could earn more money without the band and decided to go solo. His recordings show that he was a considerable talent who, despite coming from an area that contained a vast store of traditional blues styles, wrote tunes that were consistently more inventive and original than any of his contemporaries – his brothers included. Guitarist John Miller recognizes Bo as “one of the bona-fide geniuses of country blues. Bo was probably the most sophisticated of all country blues men from a harmonic viewpoint, playing with perfect facility in five tunings and showing consistent originality in his melodic and rhythmic concepts”.

Lyrically he was a master of the double entendre. Titles like The Ins And Outs Of My Girl, Your Biscuits Are Big Enough For Me, Same Thing The Cats Fight About, My Pencil Won’t Write No More, Banana In My Fruit Basket, Don’t Mash My Digger So Deep and What Kind Of Scent Is This? mesh nicely with the harder, but no less melodic straight blues of Whiskey Blues, Shake ‘Em On Down, To Her Burying Ground and the divine I Want You To Know – one of his most beautiful compositions.

Compiler Neil Slaven has included a great sample of the prolific Bo’s solo recordings along with those of The Mississippi Sheiks and his other contemporaries in the 100 tracks he’s selected for this superb 4CD set. These cuts demonstrate perfectly why Bo Carter was such a popular blues artist in his day and why, eighty years since these first recordings, he’s revered by blues fans the world over.

The Music of the Mississippi Sheiks

October 28, 2011

Thanks to Frank Basile for his scholarship and permission to disseminate this more widely!

Please check out donegone.netThe Little Brothers, and The Mississippi Sheiks. 

Click here for an interview with Sam Chatmon, the last of the Mississippi Sheiks, in 1980.

by Frank Basile at

If you’ve heard them, you know how great they sound, and if you haven’t, you’re in the enviable position of being able to hear them for the first time. The Mississippi Sheiks had a rotating cast of members that variously included Lonnie Chatmon, Walter Vinson, Bo Chatmon and Sam Chatmon. In addition to this, sometimes Charlie McCoy on mandolin would join some permutation of the four under the name of the Mississippi Mud Steppers. They were a sophisticated bunch of musicians who played a wide range of material, much of it influenced by the pop music of the day, but always with a bluesy twist.

Based purely on the songs in the four Document volumes, the Sheiks appear to have favored standard tuning for both fiddle and guitar (relative to actual pitch) and the following keys: G, B-flat, E-flat, D, C and F. In the output represented below, there does not appear to be a single song played out of A position on the fiddle. This is admittedly pretty nerdy, but the table below should illustrate the point.

The Mississippi Sheiks – number of songs by key

Key Count
G 28
B-flat 21
E-flat 13
D 10
C 7
F 5
E 1
F/B-flat/E-flat 1

The songs listed below are each linked to a complete transcription of the lyrics. In putting this together, I was attracted by the quality of many of their lyrics, notably “He Calls That Religion” and “I Can’t Go Wrong.” Subversive stuff! The lyric transcriptions are as accurate as I can make them at the moment. In general, I have transcribed the lyrics as more or less standard English, even though the singer’s usage and dialect often put an interesting twist on pronunciation. The lyric transcriptions are only a guide and don’t attempt to recreate the rhythms or tone of the original performance. As I see it, those aspects of the performance are best gleaned from the actual recording in question. Areas where I’m unsure of a particular lyric are noted with square brackets, as in this verse fromRiver Bottom Blues:”

I has a railroad [apartment] and the [] begin to cry

The empty brackets are an indication that I can’t really make out at all what’s being sung there. I find that many of these gray areas get clearer over time, but feel free to comment on the transcriptions if you have alternative suggestions. Overall, the songs I had the hardest time with are the last few recordings where Sam Chatmon is the singer – the combination of his singing style and the generally poor condition of those records make transcription very challenging. After being immersed in their music for the time that it took me to put this together, I find myself even more fascinated by their sound and completely in awe of their talent.

About the lyric transcriptions: a while back, I restricted access to the transcriptions to deter content skimming bots from accessing the site & reposting the content on some crummy, regurgitated lyric mega-site. If you’re not a bot and dig the Sheiks and would like to check out the lyrics, I can share the password with you – just send me an email. Oh, and please don’t share the password with anyone else – it’s just not cool.

Please email Frank by using  the “Contact Us” link on the website for more information about access to his collection of  Mississippi Sheiks lyrics.

The Southern Waltz (#4)

September 18, 2011

The Southern Waltz #4

The Sheik Waltz,” by the Mississippi Sheiks

17-Feb-1930, Shreveport, La