Geeshie Wiley

Birth name    Lillie Mae Boone (possible)
Also known as: Lillie Mae Scott, Lillie Mae Wiley

Geeshie Wiley was an American country blues singer and guitar player who recorded six songs for Paramount Records, issued on three records in April 1930.  According to the blues historian Don Kent, Wiley "may well have been the rural South's greatest female blues singer and musician". Little is known of her life, and there are no known photographs of her. She may have been born Lillie Mae Boone (November 14, 1908–July 29, 1950), later Lillie Mae Scott.

In April 1930, Wiley traveled with the singer and guitarist Elvie Thomas from Houston, Texas to Grafton, Wisconsin, to make recordings for Paramount Records. In a damp and dimly lit studio  on the western shore of Lake Michigan in a village in Wisconsin, the duo recorded a batch of songs that for more than half a century have been numbered among the masterpieces of prewar American music, Wiley recorded "Last Kind Words Blues" and "Skinny Leg Blues", singing and accompanying herself on guitar. Thomas provided additional guitar accompaniment and recorded two songs, "Motherless Child Blues" and "Over to My House," with Wiley playing guitar and singing harmony.  Some sources suggest that in March 1931 Wiley and Thomas returned to Grafton and recorded "Pick Poor Robin Clean" and "Eagles on a Half."

It is believed that fewer than ten original copies of Wiley's records have survived.
She seems to represent the moment when black secular music was coalescing into blues.

Little is known about Wiley, and the few details of her life provided by various sources are inconsistent. "Geeshie" (sometimes spelled "Geechie" or "Geetchie") was probably a nickname. We know that the word “Geechee,” with a c, can refer to a person born into the heavily African-inflected Gullah culture centered on the coastal islands off Georgia and the Carolinas. But more generally the nickname was possibly an affectionate nickname for a young woman of rural origins in the American South.

There have been several conjectures about her life. The musician Ishmon Bracey, a contemporary of Wiley's, stated that she came from Natchez, Mississippi, and was romantically linked with the Delta blues musician Papa Charlie McCoy. Others have suggested in the 1920s she worked in a medicine show in Jackson, Mississippi, and that she may have married Casey Bill Weldon after his divorce from Memphis Minnie. The singer and bass player Herbert Wiley, of Oxford, Mississippi, stated she was a cousin on his father's side and that her family had farmed in South Carolina. His father had told him she died in 1938 or 1939, and he believed that she may have been buried in the family burial plot in Oxford. The musicologist and genealogist Eric S. LeBlanc suggested that her name was Wadie May Wiley and that she was born near Oxford in 1906.

Research by Robert "Mack" McCormick was developed and publicized by John Jeremiah Sullivan in the New York Times in 2014.  McCormick told Sullivan that he had visited Wiley's former home and spoken to members of her immediate family when he was conducting fieldwork in Oklahoma in the 1950s. McCormick also interviewed Wiley's recording partner, L. V. "Elvie" Thomas, in Texas in 1961. Thomas began performing with Wiley in the early 1920s and remembered her as Lillie Mae Wiley.  She claimed to have given Wiley her nickname. Thomas said that a few years before the interview (in the 1950s) she had heard that Wiley was living in West Texas. Later research reported by Sullivan suggests that Wiley was born in Louisiana on November 14th 1908, and that she was the same Lillie Mae Scott who stabbed her husband, Thornton Wiley, to death in 1931. Wiley was nonetheless performing again with Thomas about 1933, on their last tour together. Sullivan also spoke to a Houston musician, John D. "Don" Wilkerson, who claimed to remember Wiley and "implied that there was something funny about her background. He said that she'd been 'maybe Mexican or something.'”

According to researcher Caitlin Love, who worked with Sullivan, Lillie Mae Wiley (née Boone) died from a head injury in 1950, and was buried with her mother Cathrine Nixson in Brushy Cemetery in Burleson County, Texas.

Alger "Texas" Alexander (September 12, 1900 – April 18, 1954)

was an American blues singer from Jewett, Texas. Some sources claim that he was the cousin of Lightnin' Hopkins, but no direct kinship has been established. It has also been asserted that he was the uncle of the Texas country blues guitarist Frankie Lee Sims.

A short man with a big, deep voice, Alexander started his career performing on the streets and at parties and picnics in the Brazos River bottomlands. There he sometimes worked with Blind Lemon Jefferson.  In 1927 he began a recording career that continued into the 1930s, recording sides for Okeh Records and Vocalion Records in New York, San Antonio, and Fort Worth.

Songs he recorded include "Mama's Bad Luck Child," "Sittin' on a Log," "Texas Special," "Broken Yo Yo" and "Don't You Wish Your Baby Was Built Up Like Mine?"

His early records for Okeh are notable not only for the originality of his songs but also for the musical themes against which they are set.  On April 9, 1934, Alexander recorded with backing by the Mississippi Sheiks. Their line-up featured Bo Carter on violin and Sam Chatman and Walter Vinson on guitar. The eight tracks recorded included "Seen Better Days" and "Frost Texas Tornado Blues", the latter of which told of the tornado which destroyed Frost, Texas, on May 6, 1930, leaving 41 dead.

Hopkins and Alexander often resorted to working as street musicians or outside of music altogether during the Depression and afterwards. Alexander did not play a musical instrument, and over the years he worked with a number of other artists, including King Oliver, Eddie Lang, Lonnie Johnson, Little Hat Jones, the Mississippi Sheiks, J. T. Smith, and Lightnin' Hopkins.  He sang in the free rhythm of work songs, such as the migrant cotton pickers he performed for might have sung, which posed a challenge for those accompanying him. His singing is difficult to follow, and on his records his accompanists can often be heard resetting their watches to "Alexander time".  Lonnie Johnson devised free-form guitar melodies in counterpoint to Alexander's vocal lines.

Alexander allegedly murdered his wife in 1939 and was imprisoned in the state penitentiary in Paris, Texas, from 1940 to 1945. Research by Coy Prather published in the spring 2014 issue of Texas Music Magazine revealed the often-printed story of his prison term may be a myth. There are no records that Alexander ever served a sentence in a Texas prison, and there was never a prison in Paris. Prather believed Alexander may have served time on a county work farm for playing lewd music in public.

After 1945 Alexander returned to performing and recording. His last recording was made in 1950 with Benton's Busy Bees,  with Leon Benton on guitar and Buster Pickens on piano.

Alexander died of syphilis in 1954, at the age of 53.  He was buried in Longstreet Cemetery, in Montgomery County, Texas.

Sam Chatman

Sam was born in Bolton, Mississippi, on January 10, 1899 on John Gettis’s plantation near Jackson.  However, some sources say 1897, but his grave and his comments on The New Mississippi Sheiks album say 1899.  Chatmon’s family was well-known in Mississippi for their musical talents. His father Henderson Chatmon, was an ex-slave who played the fiddle for square dances. He lived to be 105 years old and had nine sons and two daughters, all whom seemed to have his musical ability. Chatmon’s mother played the guitar.

Chatmon became interested in the guitar at the age of six, taking it down off the wall to play while his family worked in the fields and replacing it before they came home. His famous older brothers (Sam was the ninth child) Lonnie Chatmon and Bo (Armentor Chatmon) Carter performed with Walter Vinson as the Mississippi Sheiks. Sam became a member of the family’s string band at a young age. The family played, according to Robert Palmer, ballads, ragtime, spirituals, popular Tin Pan Alley songs and country dance music. At the end of World War I, the Chatmon brothers formed a string band, preferring to play blues and waltzes on a regular basis for white audiences in the 1920’s because it paid better. Sam also played with the Mississippi Sheiks occasionally.

In 1928 the Chatmons moved to the Delta to a town named Hollandale. The band disbanded in 1935, but in 1936 Sam and Lonnie Chatmon recorded twelve duets for Bluebird.

After the death of his brothers, Sam Chatmon became part of the New Mississippi Sheiks and played with Walter Vinson, Carl Martin, and Ted Bogan. Sam did not record during the 1940’s. Instead he worked on area plantations around Hollandale. He was rediscovered in 1960 by Ken Swerilas, who talked Sam into performing again. Sam Chatmon became known primarily then as a folk blues artist recording on the Arhoolie label and later with others.

Chatmon’s wife was Elma Lue Chatmon. Their son later became known as Singing’ Sam and was a bass guitarist who played with Elmore James.

In addition to the guitar, Sam Chatmon played the banjo, bass, mandolin, and harmonica.  He toured extensively during the 60’s and 70’s, and played many of the largest and best-known folk festivals that included the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. in 1972; the Mariposa Fest in Toronto in 1974; and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1976.

Of note, Sam played with Charley Patton, whom he sometimes called his half brother. Others have stated that the two were cousins, but Anna Patton, Charley’s mother, and surviving Patton relatives have disputed this relationship. It is known that Charley Patton’s father was a “man of God” who believed music to be evil, so Charley often slipped out of his own house to play with the Chatmon family.

Sam Chatmon was one of the few bluesmen to perform with Fingers Taylor on the Blues Caravan in the 1970’s and went on tour with Jimmy Buffet.  Sam Chatmon continued to perform until his death on February 2, 1983. He is buried in Hollandale, Mississippi.