The Legendary Parkway Label

© Robert Pruter, Robert L. Campbell, and Mark Mumea

Latest revision: December 27, 2016

Little Walter,
From the collection of Victor Pearlin

Revision note. The Parkway page is under major reconstruction—readers will note a much larger number of Parkway sessions, and a new history of Parkway's connections with Fred Mendelsohn and Regal, as well as Mendelsohn's brief involvement with Herald and his much longer tenure at Savoy. (Artist biographies and other details will be added in the near future.) We have added information about Monroe Passis' work in the record business before he started Chord Distributors, and about the swift pace of Leonard Chess's retaliation (the Aristocrat "Rollin' and Tumblin'" was rushed into distribution, getting into stores around the same time as the Parkway version that had been recorded earlier). We have added information on the enigmatic Jimmy Rogers track, "Ludella," on the possible identity of the harmonica player on "Steelin' Boogie," on an Eddie Boyd session that was released on Regal, and on four sessions involving Roosevelt Sykes. We have added information about the Memphis Minnie release on Regal 3259, which we know now came out in April 1950, after the Leaner brothers had exited but while Parkway was still in operation. This could indicate that Fred Mendelsohn already had a piece of Parkway before the company closed; our thanks to Steve Franz for bringing the release date to our attention. We have also added information about Monroe Passis' activities in the record business after September 1950, when Parkway closed, and about Fred Mendelsohn's career with Regal, DeLuxe, Herald, and Regent/Savoy after that date. From additional research in the trade papers, focusing mostly on Mendelsohn's activities, we have discovered multiple business relationships between Passis and Mendelsohn, stretching from June 1949 through November 1951, when Regal shut down. The Chicago blues sessions described here are best seen as part of a messy Parkway-Chord Distributors-Record Distributors, Inc.-Regal nexus, extending from January 1950 at least through April 1951.

Parkway is one of those small Chicago postwar blues labels that developed a legendary reputation based on a handful of recorded sides. Parkway was officially in business for 7 months; ongoing relationships between its owner, Monroe Passis, and Fred Mendelsohn of the New Jersey-based Regal company probably extended its involvement in recording out to 15 months. In all, the Parkway-Regal nexus produced 43 titles (not counting sides unissued on singles or surviving alternate takes): four by the Baby Face Leroy Trio, four by the Little Walter Trio, four by Memphis Minnie, one by Jimmy Rogers, two by Robert Jenkins, who may or may not have played the harmonica, three by Eddie Boyd, ten by Roosevelt Sykes, two by Essie Sykes, four by St. Louis Jimmy, and four by Sunnyland Slim. Of these, 31 were released on singles between March 1950 and May 1953. Most of the releases were on Regal or Herald; a couple more even followed on Savoy. Just four singles ever carried an original Parkway label—but what extraordinary records they were.

The Baby Face Leroy Trio (featuring vocals by Leroy Foster) and Little Walter sides were recorded in one 8-tune session (which we have broken down below, for readability, into Pk1 and Pk2). Most outstanding of the four Baby Face sides was the two-part "Rollin’ and Tumblin’," which ranks as one of the most exhilarating products of the Chicago postwar bar-band blues explosion (Muddy Waters and Little Walter were both in the band). The notable Little Walter Trio release featured blues harpist Little Walter on "Just Keep Lovin’ You" and "Moonshine Blues." Two other Little Walter sides were sold to Fred Mendelsohn and not released on Parkway; they showed up later on Regal or Herald.

Baby Face Leroy Trio,
Courtesy of Big Joe Louis

The Memphis Minnie session, almost certainly done back-to-back with the Baby Face Leroy, produced four sides, two of which were released on Regal; unlike the Little Walter release they showed up on Regal while Parkway was still officially in business. Either in between the Baby Face Leroy and Memphis Minnie sessions, or at the tail end while everyone was still present, Minnie's long-time associate Jimmy Rogers got a chance to cut as a leader, though his effort was left in the can, finally emerging two decades later under rather mysterious circumstances.

The Robert Jenkins sides were recorded at a separate session, released on Parkway and never dealt to anyone else, so far as we can tell. Finally, 4 sides cut by jazz trombonist Bennie Green, in the last known session for the company, never saw release anywhere and may be lost.

The rest of Parkway's output was either recorded by Monroe Passsis for Fred Mendelsohn of Regal Records, or dealt to Mendelsohn after Passis recorded it: sessions by Roosevelt Sykes from March 1950 (when Sykes was not yet under contract to Regal) and Eddie Boyd from July, then a patch of sessions from April 1951 (more Roosevelt Sykes, Essie Sykes, St. Louis Jimmy, and Sunnyland Slim), when Passis was not officially running Parkway but Mendelsohn and his company held a substantial stake in Passis' second distribution enterprise, Record Distributors, Inc. The window for recording snapped shut in November 1951, when Regal closed and Passis' days in the music business were numbered.

Monroe Passis, who headed Chord Distributors at 2320 South Michigan, founded the label in January of 1950. Two African-American brothers, Ernie and George Leaner, who were managers at Chord Distributors, were assigned to run the label. A Billboard story, datelined January 28, 1950, announced the formation of the firm and said that Passis has "set up his own Parkway disks, which will be exclusively a blues and rhythm diskery. Passis will operate the label as a separate subsidiary under Hit Record Distributors, 2320 South Michigan Avenue." (See "Passis in Chicago Sets Up Own Label for Blues, Rhythms," Billboard, Febuary 4, 1950, p. 45. The article ominously noted that Parkway had two distributors outside of Chicago: one in Cincinnati and one in New York City. We doubt the label ever got much further.)

This is a complicated set-up for such a small label. But Hit Record Distributors, it appears, was the Leaner brothers’ proprietary firm under Chord. It had the same address as that of Chord, and Passis in a 1984 interview with blues researcher Jim O’Neal said the Leaners operated Hit Record (but mangled some of the details). The Billboard article listed the Parkway officers as Passis, president; Ernie Leaner, vice president in charge of artists and repertoire; and George Leaner, in charge of sales and promotion. The article related that the label already has "two artists on its tee-off release," namely the Little Walter Trio and the Baby Face Leroy Trio.

Passis's statement to O’Neal in 1984 that the Leaners had no association with Parkway and had left his firm two years earlier is incorrect, stemming from his imperfect effort to recall events involving a tangle of enterprises many decades earlier. In fact, the Leaners probably gave the label its name. South Parkway was not only the main north-south thoroughfare through the black community, but located on the street was the Groove Record Shop (4708 South Parkway), which the brothers had once operated with their sister, Bernice.

Nesting such a small operation as Parkway under Hit Distributors, then nesting Hit Distributors under Chord Distributors, may seem needlessly complex. But, as we have gradually learned, that wasn't the half of it. Before Passis brought the Leaners into Chord, he was already working with East Coast record man Fred Mendelsohn, and the connection would continue after Parkway had officially ceased to exist. Mendelsohn never owned a piece of Chord, or Hit, and he may have acquired an interest in Parkway, but if he did it never became public knowledge. But he had multiple connections with both Chord and with Parkway; he and his company did take a direct interest in Chord's successor, Record Distributors; and Mendelsohn was releasing Parkway material on his Regal label on at least two occasions while Parkway was still in business. We'll hold off on Mendelsohn's back story until we've introduced Monroe Passis, George Leaner, and Ernie Leaner.

The Principals

Monroe B. Passis was born on May 11, 1914, in Racine, Wisconsin. The 1930 census shows the Passis family living in Chicago, with the 15-year-old Monroe identified as "Morris." By the late 1930s he was in the record distribution business, handling the Columbia label. According to his daughter, Rene Thaler, Passis produced for six record labels, notably Black & White, recorded Lena Horne, among others, and was an associate producer on Bing Crosby’s "White Christmas." Thaler was an infant during these years, and some of these stories may be mere family lore. However, we recently spotted a reference to Monroe B. Passis as a "regional supervisor" for Black & White, in a Cash Box record industry column (January 20, 1947, p. 13; he had been in New York City to promote Jack McVea's version of "Open the Door, Richard!"

Chord Distributors listing

After World War II, with the rise of independent labels, there was a concomitant growth in indie distribution firms. Probably in late 1947, Passis formed Chord Distributors to exploit this growing market. Chord was originally located at 2406 South LaSalle. Though the company probably maintained a presence on LaSalle, in October 1948 (see Cash Box, October 2, 1948, p. 23; Signature Records ad in Billboard's Juke Box Supplement, January 22, 1949, p. 6), Passis moved his main office several blocks east to join the other distributors on Michigan Avenue, occupying the 2320 address.

On August 1, 1949 Passis brought George and Ernie Leaner into his firm, and reflecting his background, told Jim O’Neal, "They were nice black boys, I liked them. They were sales men for another company and I brought them into mine." Passis had picked them up from Milt Salstone's M S Distributing and made Ernie vice president and general manager and George secretary. The article in Billboard presented the story as a major push by Passis into distributing R&B. Getting two young and aggressive African-American talents into his firm was a part of the push, along with adding new manufacturing lines.

Chord Distributors in the March 1948 telephone directory listed its lines as "popular, race, religious, and kiddy records." Billboard advertisements and announcements show us that that the company was handling such labels as Signature and Damon; a blurb in Billboard (March 20, 1948, p. 19) about a new catalogue Passis had prepared claimed that he was handling "approximately" 20 labels in 5 states. The same issue of Bilboard ("Gem Adds 5 Distribs, p. 17) announced that Chord was now handling Nat Cohn's label out of New York. By July, Passis was showing a stronger interest in R&B, picking up Apollo (Chord was formally announced as an Apollo distributor in Billboard, July 17, 1948, p. 41). Passis told O’Neal, "I was interested in the blues. Loved them. I used to go down to Indiana Avenue, 47th Street, 33rd Street, 31st Street, I was all over the South Side; 51st, 53rd, 55th. Traveled up and down that area."

In 1949 Chord was distributing such labels as Bravo, a New York-based polka specialist, and Crystalette out of Los Angeles (Billboard, May 14, 1949, p. 27; July 2, 1949, p. 23). The company sustained $17,000 in damage after a fire (the Mercury distributor in Milwaukee burned down the same week, and Aristocrat would suffer its own fire during the summer; Billboard, May 28, 1949, p. 37). With the Leaners on board, Chord quickly picked up more that would appeaal to black record buyers; by the end of September, these included Exclusive, New Jazz, Sunrise, and Coleman (Billboard, October 1, 1949, p. 42). And when Don Robey launched Peacock, Chord was its distributor in Chicago ("Peacock Disks into Blues, Rhythm Field," Billboard, December 24, 1949, p. 40).

Groove Record Shop listing

The Leaner brothers were born in Mississippi—George, on June 1, 1917, and Ernie on August 15, 1921. They came up to Chicago in the late 1930s and entered the record business during the 1940s when they joined their sister Bernice in operating the Groove Record Shop. The brothers were nephews of famed disc jockey Al Benson (whose real name was Arthur Leaner). George began working as an assistant to blues producer Lester Melrose in 1946, and both brothers joined M S Distributors in 1947. In their move to Monroe Passis’ Chord Distributors they were assuming management positions.

Based in New Jersey, Fred Mendelsohn was an entrepreneur, manager, A&R person, and salesman in the recording business. He was born on May 16, 1917. He had been operating a small New Jersey-based label, Regent, when Herman Lubinsky of Savoy acquired a part interest in June 1948. After a year working for Lubinsky under a "Chinese wall" arrangement, Mendelsohn announced in June 1949 that he was starting his own company, Merit. Merit recorded 40 masters but didn't get many records out, most likely for lack of financing; we know of just 3 releases, all from July 1949 (Merit 300 and 301 were by a duo, the Bailey Brothers, who would get a third relase on Regal. Merit 301 and 302 were announced as new releases on July 16, 1949, p. 39; the brothers did a then-faddish organ and bones thing, which didn't impress the Billboard reviewer (July 23, 1949, p. 31). In August 1949, Mendelsohn joined with Dave and Jules Braun, who had owned the DeLuxe label and were tired of an arrangement just as awkward (for the past year, they, too, had been working for Syd Nathan of King Records, who had bought the remains of their company after it went bankrupt). The Brauns and Mendelsohn started a new company called Regal.

In two stories, datelined August 6, 1949, we learn that the first releases on Regal "will be out next week" ("Split Reported between King & DeLuxe Firms," Billboard, August 13, 1949, p. 18; a follow-up story ran on September 3, "King & DeLuxe Split Confirmed by Sid Nathan," p. 14). For its main release numbering system, Regal picked up exactly where DeLuxe had left off, at 3229. (During 1950 and 1951, Regal and DeLuxe release stayed fairly close, though DeLuxe put out more new records per month.) We doubt Syd Nathan cared about numbering. What got under his skins was Regal's diversion of the most successful DeLuxe artists: Paul Gayten and Larry Darnell. It just so happened they would be Regal's most commercially successful artists (and Gayten, who backed Darnell as well as other Regal headliners in the studio would be Regal's most recorded artist. The longer of the two Billboard stories, out of Chicago, went on to state that "A check of local distributors revealed that Chord Distributing Company, local distributor of rhythm and blues platters, is handling Regal. A rep of Chord said that the Braun brothers had contacted the firm when they took over the line." Not hard a deal to make, when Chord had previously been a Merit distributor.

The Musicians

Muddy Waters was born McKinley A. Morganfield, on 4 April 1913, near Rolling Fork, Mississippi. He was raised on Stovall's Plantation, just outside of Clarksdale. His voice and guitar were first heard on Library of Congress field recordings, cut in 1941 and 1942 by folk music researcher Alan Lomax. In 1943 Waters moved up to Chicago, working mainly at house parties, as there was virtually no market at this time for country blues in the clubs. In 1944 he switched from acoustic guitar to electric. As the migration of southern blacks increased after World War II, a market for his style of blues began to develop. To be able to play in the higher-profile clubs, Waters joined Musicians Union Local 208 in September 1945, and by the following year was working regularly with Little Walter and Jimmy Rogers in an informal group called the Headcutters or Headhunters, at times bringing in Leroy Foster on drums. In 1946 Waters made one recording for J. Mayo Williams (which was credited to the wrong artist on release by the 20th Century label) and some recordings for Lester Melrose (which Columbia left in the can).

Waters began his association with Aristocrat in September 1947, when he was entrusted with two sides at the tail end of a Sunnyland Slim session. They didn't sell much, but the company decided to try him again. His second session in December established Waters commercially. "I Can’t Be Satisfied" became a local hit when released in June 1948, and the flip, "I Feel Like Going Home," became a national hit. In June 1950, Aristocrat would morph into Chess, which became a leading independent partly built on the sales of Muddy Waters records.

While building his career at Aristocrat, Waters was still recording as a sideman for other companies, notably for Tempo-Tone (which put his name on the label) in May of 1949. By the time he made those extraordinary sides for Parkway, the company found it advisable to keep his name off the label as a performer (but credited him as songwriter on "Rollin’ and Tumblin’").

Guitarist Jimmy Rogers was born James A. Lane on June 3, 1924, in Ruleville, Mississippi. He began performing on harmonica. Shortly after arriving in Chicago in 1945, Rogers in short order was performing with Muddy Waters and then Little Walter, and then all three together as the Headhunters. With Walter dominant on harmonica, Rogers switched to rhythm guitar to play with the group. Rogers first recorded, on harmonica, for Mayo Williams' Harlem label, but the single side featuring him was mislabeled (as being the work of Memphis Slim) and his presence was not recognized for many years. Rogers next recorded on guitar for Ora Nelle in 1947, backing Little Walter on his single, and recording a number under his own name, which went unreleased. Rogers' next two recording opportunities, for Tempo-Tone and JOB (promptly unloaded to Apollo), also went unreleased at the time. Though a regular in Muddy Waters' band, he had yet to appear on any of Muddy's sessions for Aristocrat when the Parkway opportunity cropped up.

Harpist Little Walter in the 1950s would become one of the giants of Chicago’s postwar blues boom. He was born Marion Walter Jacobs on May 1, 1930, in Marksville, Louisiana. Walter left his home with his harmonica at the young age of 13 to become an itinerant street musician, going to New Orleans, then up to Memphis, then St. Louis, and finally Chicago in 1946. He took up performing in Chicago’s famed open air flea market on Maxwell Street. The following year he made his first recordings for the tiny Ora Nelle label, owned by Bernard Abrams of Maxwell Street Radio and Record. Walter backed Othum Brown and Jimmy Rogers on their sides and then took the lead on one number. His next session would be for Tempo-Tone in May 1949, followed by the Parkway sides in January 1950.

Baby Face Leroy Foster
Baby Face Leroy Foster

The multitalented Baby Face Leroy Foster was born on 12 February 1923, in Algoma, Mississippi. He was one of the pioneers of the post-World War II southern blues resurgence in Chicago, arriving in the city in 1945. His vocals, drumming, and guitar picking can be found on some of the greatest Chicago bar-band blues records. Before joining Muddy Waters' band, he worked with Sunnyland Slim and John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. He first recorded on two sessions (1945 and 1946) with pianist Lee Brown for J. Mayo Williams; two sides were released on Williams' Chicago label, two (with misleading label copy) on Harlem; and two more ended up on Syd Nathan's Queen label. He also recorded with James Clark and Muddy Waters for Columbia in 1946 (but only Clark's records were released). His next appearance on record was probably as the guitarist on two sides that Sunnyland Slim did for the Opera label, under the pseudonym Delta Joe; these could have been done in December 1947, although a 1948 date can't be ruled out. He made his first recording in his own name for Aristocrat in November 1948, when he recorded two titles with Muddy Waters as "Leroy Foster & Muddy Waters." In May 1949, he was in the studio for Tempo-Tone, singing two unreleased sides that heretofore have been totally unknown to discographers. (Foster played guitar on these and several other Tempo-Tone sides, not drums as stated in previous discographies.) Following the Tempo-Tones, Leroy Foster would appear (playing guitar with two hands and as much of a drum kit as he could handle with two feet) on one more of Muddy Waters' sessions for Aristocrat, in September 1949. But he got no opportunity to sing on that occasion, since Muddy was sharing the lead vocals with pianist Johnny Jones. As it turned out, the last recording Foster would make with Muddy was for Parkway.

Trombonist Bennie Green was born in Chicago on April 16, 1923. Like so many Chicago-based jazzmen, he graduated from DuSable High School, where he played in the band under Captain Walter Dyett. After graduating from DuSable, he played in local groups, joining Earl Hines' big band in 1942. Unfortunately, this edition of the Hines band, which included Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sarah Vaughan, did not record. After service in an Army band during World War II (1943-1946), Green returned to the Hines orchestra, remaining there until early 1948. He appeared on two sessions with Hines, one of them made in Chicago for Sunrise. He then spent a little time in Gene Ammons' combo before joining Charlie Ventura's outfit. Green recorded with Ventura for National (October 1948) and RCA Victor (several sessions in 1949); he also appeared with Ventura in a "Just Jazz" concert (May 1949) that was picked up by Decca. "Pennies from Heaven" was his ballad feature with Ventura, but an earlier Ventura group had recorded a version featuring Kai Winding and Green did not get an opportunity to redo the number. He had recently left Ventura when Parkway picked him up, offering him his first session as a leader.

Tenor saxophonist Claude McLin was born in Chicago on December 27, 1925. Also a DuSable product, he was a member of Levi Sayles' "baby band" in 1944, playing alongside Johnny Griffin. He served in the Army from 1944 to 1946, and began working as a leader in the clubs on returning to Chicago. He was also featured in the Sunday dances that McKie Fitzhugh put on at the Pershing Ballroom, where he appeared in tenor battles with Gene Ammons, Tom Archia, Johnny Griffin, Von Freeman, and even his idol, Lester Young. From 1947 through 1949 his band found regular work in South Side clubs. In March 1949, after his combo had played the Macomba Lounge for about a month, Aristocrat used his band to back singer/pianist Laura Rucker. The Green session for Parkway, done at a time when he was scuffling for gigs, was McLin's second studio recording.

Willie Jones, known in his heyday as the "piano wrecker," was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on February 21, 1920. He served in the military during World War II, and joined Local 208 in Chicago in November 1945. By October 1946 he was working in a combo led by drummer Wally Hayes. He made his first recording with Buster Bennett for Columbia in June 1947. After joining King Kolax's combo, he appeared on Kolax's Opera session (late 1947 or 1948). By October 1948, when he recorded for Aristocrat with Tom Archia's All Stars, he was a regular member of Archia's group at the Macomba Lounge; he was still in residence there when he got the call for the Parkway session. Jones played in the locked-hands style made popular by Milt Buckner, but drew some of his inspiration from 20th century classical music, such as the works of Lukas Foss. Both Sun Ra and Andrew Hill counted him as an influence.

Gene Wright was born in Chicago on May 29, 1923. He first learned the cornet and later switched to string bass. In 1943 and 1944 he led a group called the Dukes of Swing. After returning from military service, he revived the Dukes in 1946. In 1947, he made his first recording for Mercury as a member of Gene Ammons' combo. In 1948, he spent a few weeks subbing for Walter Page in the Count Basie band, then returned to Chicago in October to organize another Dukes of Swing band that included such up and coming musicians as Hobart Dotson (trumpet), Johnny Avant (trombone), Bill Evans (later known as Yusef Lateef, tenor sax), and Sonny Blount (later known as Sun Ra, piano); the group recorded for Aristocrat in December. But Wright disbanded this orchestra around Christmas 1948 and went back on the road with Count Basie until the summer of 1949. At the time of the Parkway session, Wright was once again gigging around town with Gene Ammons' group, among others.

About Dorell Anderson, we know the least. His name often showed up in advertisements as "Darnell," but fellow drummers Vernel Fournier and Alvin Fielder have verified that his name was Dorell. Anderson came on the scene in the late 1940s, when, according to Fielder, he was considered the number 2 bebop drummer in Chicago after Ike Day. But Anderson had little more success getting recorded than Day did. The Parkway outing is his first known studio session.

The Sessions

The legendary first Parkway session involved most of Muddy Waters’ regular working band: Baby Face Leroy Foster on drums, Little Walter on harmonica. Jimmy Rogers was around for part of the proceedings, as we will see, but did not play on the Foster and Walter tracks. Instead, Foster played guitar on some of the sides while operating the bass drum and high-hat with pedals. Waters had been playing in clubs with this lineup in the previous months, and was frustrated by Leonard Chess’s lack of interest in recording it. The session, reportedly, did not take place in a regular studio. Muddy Waters' biographer, Robert Gordon, declared that it took place in a "warehouse." On the Delmark reissues, the location is given as Chord Distributors, but the basis for that attribution is not clear.

Baby Face Leroy Trio,
Courtesy of Big Joe Louis

The session was cut on nine 16-inch lacquers, which contained alternate takes of all of the pieces except "Rollin' and Tumblin'" and "Bad Actin' Woman." The original lacquers were all thought to be lost, but around a decade ago three of them were located (it looks as though Fred Mendelsohn brought them to DeLuxe during his brief tenure there). One of the lacquers contains all 3 takes of "Boll Weevil," plus a false start to an unknown title; a second contains the single takes of parts 1 and 2 of "Rollin' and Tumblin'," numbered as on the original release; the third includes the last two takes of "Just Keep Lovin' Her." In 2012, these lacquers were used for the Parkway 45-rpm releases on Louis Records.

The overall order in which the lacquers were recorded is still not known. Take 2 of "Boll Weevil" broke down after a minute and a half, in part because the two guitars weren't properly balanced.

In the absence of better information, we've disassembled the session into the four Leroy Foster tracks, followed by the four Little Walter tracks, and used the matrix numbers that appeared on the first release of each side. (We'll assume, having no better idea, that the H prefix stood for Hit.)

Pk1. Baby Face Leroy Trio | Vocal by Baby Face Leroy* / Baby Face Leroy Trio | Vocal Leroy Foster^ / Baby Face** / Little Walter***

Leroy Foster (eg -2; voc, d); Little Walter (hca); Muddy Waters -1 (eg).

Chord Distributors, Chicago, January 1950

H-512 [tk. 1] Boll Weevil (Foster) -1
Parkway 505 (45 rpm)
H-512 [tk. 2 - inc] Boll Weevil (Foster) -1, 2
H-512 [tk. 3] Boll Weevil (Foster) -1, 2
Parkway 104^, Herald 404***, Blues Classics LP 8, P-Vine Special [J] PLP 9038, Delmark DL-648, P-Vine Special [J] PLP-364, Delmark DD 648 [CD]
H-513 [tk. 1] Rollin’ and Tumblin’ Part I (Waters) -1*
Parkway 501 (78 rpm)*, Blues Classics LP 8, P-Vine Special [J] PLP 9038, Delmark DL-648, P-Vine Special [J] PLP-364, Delmark DD 648 [CD], Parkway 501 (45 rpm)
H-514 [tk. 1] Rollin’ and Tumblin’ Part 2 (Waters) -1* / Rollin' Blues***
Parkway 501 (78 rpm)*, Herald 404***, Blues Classics LP 8, P-Vine Special [J] PLP 9038, Delmark DL-648, P-Vine Special [J] PLP-364, Delmark DD 648 [CD], Parkway 501 (45 rpm)
H-515 [tk. 3] Red Headed Woman (Foster) -1, 2
Parkway 104^, Savoy 1122 A**, Savoy 1501 A**, Muskadine 1, Muskadine M 100, XTRA [Br] 1133, P-Vine Special [J] PLP 9038, Delmark DL-648, P-Vine Special [J] PLP-364, Delmark DD 648 [CD]

Blues Classics LP 8 is Chicago Blues: the Early 1950’ (1965). Muskadine 1 (c. 1969), Muskadine M 100 (1971), and XTRA 1133 were all titled On the Road Again: An Anthology of Chicago Blues 1947-1954. P-Vine Special PLP 9038, Down Home Blues, a Japanese release from 1982, is the direct forerunner of the Delmark LP, using the same tracks in the same order. Delmark DL-648 (LP) and DD 648 (CD) are The Blues World of Little Walter (1984 and 1993, respectively). P-Vine Special PLP-364 is the Japanese version of Delmark DL-648—with different cover art that includes two photos of Baby Face Leroy.

Leroy Foster on this session was given credit on four sides, two of which made up a remarkable performance of "Rollin' and Tumblin'." He also took the opportunity to rerecord his two Tempo-Tone numbers, "Red Headed Woman" and "Boll Weevil," which he had done in May of 1949. It was undoubtedly gratifying to Foster to see these titles released—or at least given much greater visibility.

Baby Face Leroy Trio,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

"Red Headed Woman" and "Boll Weevil" were paired for release on Parkway 104. "Red Headed Woman" is a spirited workout, and over the pulsating rhythm, Foster sings with a swing in his voice and Walter blows exuberantly. In "Boll Weevil" the proceedings are brought down to a slow tempo, with Walter’s wailing harp establishing the atmospherics around Foster’s insinuating vocals. (The first take, with just Muddy's guitar, was not selected for release on account of Foster's mannered vocal, but it makes a good account of itself as finally released on Parkway 505.) Despite the excellence of the two sides, Parkway 104 sold poorly. But the company rightly felt strong about the Foster sides, and released all of them within a couple of months.

Baby Face Leroy Trio,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

"Rollin’ and Tumblin" was based on an old blues theme, first recorded in 1929 by Hambone Willie Newbern as "Roll and Tumble Blues" for OKeh. (Muddy Waters had already used the tune, though not the words, for his "Down South Blues," which he recorded for Aristocrat.) The number is a two-sided recording, labeled Part 1 and Part 2. But unlike most such releases that are divided into parts, "Rollin’ and Tumblin’ was really two takes of the song, one with sung lyrics and the other with wordless moaning. The song exhibits a powerful drive built on Muddy Waters' slide guitar playing. We’re going to quote the description of the song as it appeared in Tony Glover, Scott Dirks, and Ward Gaines’ Little Walter biography:

The tone is set by an insistent instrumental lead-in, guitar and harp together playing the sinuous, hypnotically droning riff. Foster sings with passion as Muddy moans wordlessly behind Foster’s vocals, and Foster even quotes the "Baby’s going to jump and shout, when the train come wheeling up, and I come walking out" verse that Muddy used in his hit "I Can’t Be Satisfied" a year and a half earlier. Walter plays with fire, sometimes echoing, sometimes answering Muddy’s biting lead lines. The take is so hot that they immediately continued on with another take, this one with wordless vocals, Foster and Waters moaning in unison lines, Foster taking the high end. Walter carries the lead melody on a few choruses, his harp tone fat and funky. The result is a compelling two-sided release, with an insistent groove that just won’t quit.

The original Parkway release listed the moaning take as Part 1 and the lyrics take as Part 2. The Little Walter authors reversed the order, and Delmark Records, in its Blues World of Little Walter album, also reversed the Parkway designations. The rationale for the change is that the take with the lyrics show a cleanly developed lead in, the lead in on the moaning take is somewhat messy and unfocused, as though the musicians were interrupted and then allowed to resume what they had started. However, the session lacquer for "Rollin' and Tumblin'" consists of the moaning take followed by the take with lyrics, and the 2012 reissue on Parkway 501 presents them in that order.

Also, the original moaning take ran to 3:19. The session lacquer carries instructions to "Fade Out Cut 1 about 2:45," which were followed on the original Parkway release. Some subsequent reissues cut the introduction to the track. The 2012 reissue of Parkway 501 restores the unedited take as its Part 1.

The "Rollin’ and Tumblin’" release on the original Parkway 501, which came out in March, was such a remarkable production that it even caught the attention of the Chicago Defender, which usually ignored all citified country blues artists—the most representative of these being Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and Baby Face Leroy. In his "About the Records" column for March 11, Edward Myers treated it as some exotic specimen, saying "The first record I’d like to mention is ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’’ on [the] Parkway label with Parts one and two. This record is unique in that it has the sound and beat of African chant. Must have been taken from one of our earliest American Negro folk songs. The second part takes on a vocal that is typical blues." The next three records discussed in the column were by artists more typically covered by Myers—Mahalia Jackson, Sonny Stitt, and Bud Powell.

Little Walter,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Fred Mendelsohn acquired the first Parkway session from Passis. According to Mike Rowe in his history of Chicago blues, this was to settle a debt. (As will be discussed below, Mendelsohn may have acquired a piece of Parkway while it was still in operation. Mendelsohn, at least in his capacity as a principal at Regal, was also involved in Passis' Record Distributors, Inc., the successor to Chord.) Regal closed in November 1951, and after some time doing Tots 'n' Teens "kidisks" (all that remained of the Regal operation) and working for the revived DeLuxe label (a subsidiary of King), in November 1952 Mendelsohn started Herald Records, a New York-based company. Meanwhile Little Walter had become a huge star in the R&B world, so after taking pressing plant executive Al Silver pm as a partner in February 1953, Mendelsohn put out four of the Parkway sides under the name Little Walter. Two of these were the Baby Face Leroy Trio’s "Boll Weevil" (H-512) and "Rollin’ and Tumblin’ Pt. 2" (H-514), the latter renamed "Rollin’ Blues." Virtually all of the surviving Heralds are 78s, but according to Barry Soltz, both of the Heralds that bore Little Walter's name also came out on 45 rpm. While the commercial instinct may have been sound, between February and May 1953 Mendelsohn and his partners in Herald could not afford to put anything behind the Walters and other Chicago blues releases on the label, and none of them sold. And as soon as Herald started making money, Mendelsohn was out of the company.

Little Walter,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

From the collection of Barry Soltz

Baby Face,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

In June 1953, with Herald just beginning to enjoy its first hit record, Mendelsohn's share of the company was bought out by Al Silver and partners. In December 1953, Fred Mendelsohn was hired by Savoy. He took the Parkway sides there with him, as he had previously at the revived DeLuxe and at Herald. "Red Headed Woman" reappeared at some point in 1954 on Savoy 1122, which was released on both 78 and 45 rpm. The flip was the Little Walter track, "Moonshine Blues" (renamed "Moonshine Baby"). Both sides were credited to Foster as "Baby Face." In October 1956, the single was reissued as Savoy 1501; Billboard, not seeing it as different, reviewed it under its old issue number.

Baby Face,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Parkway 501 (45 rpm version) and 505 (also in 45 rpm) are 7-inch singles released in May 2012 by Louis Records. Parkway 505 couples the recently discovered take 1 of "Boll Weevil" with the previously unissued take 3 of "Just Keep Lovin' Her" (see the next listing below). Parkway 501 (available only in 45 rpm, where the original 501 was released only as a 78) presents "Rollin' and Tumblin'" with an unedited Part 1 (the original Parkway release was faded at 2:46 into the track). There is no chance of confusion with original Parkway releases, because they were on 78 rpm only.

Little Walter,
From the collection of Victor Pearlin

Pk2. Little Walter Trio | Vocal by Little Walter* / Little Walter Trio^ / Little Walter** / Baby Face***

Little Walter (voc; eg -1; hca -3); Muddy Waters (eg); Leroy Foster (eg -2; d).

Chord Distributors, Chicago, January 1950

H-511 [tk. 3] Just Keep Lovin' Her (Jacobs) -2, 3
Parkway 505 (45 rpm)
H-511 [tk. 4] Just Keep Lovin' Her (Jacobs) -2, 3
Parkway 502*, Herald 403**, Muskadine 1, Muskadine M 100, XTRA [Br] 1133, Nighthawk LP 102, P-Vine Special [J] PLP 9038, Delmark DL-648, P-Vine Special [J] PLP-364, Black Gold Heritage [It] BGH 3370, Delmark DD 648 [CD]
H-516 [tk. 2]
R 1356^
Muskadine Blues^ / Take a Walk with Me** -1
Regal 3296^, Herald 403**, Blues Classics LP 8, P-Vine Special [J] PLP 9038, Delmark DL-648, P-Vine Special [J] PLP-364, Black Gold Heritage [It] BGH 3370,, Delmark DD 648 [CD]
H-517 [tk. 1] Moonshine Blues* / Moonshine Baby*** (Jacobs) -1
Parkway 502*, Savoy 1122 B***, Savoy 1501 B***, Muskadine 1, Muskadine M 100, XTRA [Br] 1133, P-Vine Special [J] PLP 9038, Delmark DL-648, P-Vine Special [J] PLP-364, Black Gold Heritage [It] BGH 3370, Delmark DD 648 [CD]
R-1357 [tk. 1] Bad Actin' Woman^ -1
Regal 3296^, Muskadine 1, Muskadine M 100, XTRA [Br] 1133, P-Vine Special [J] PLP 9038, Delmark DL-648, P-Vine Special [J] PLP-364, Black Gold Heritage [It] BGH 3370, Delmark DD 648 [CD]

Blues Classics LP 8 is Chicago Blues: The Early 1950’s (1965). Muskadine 1, Muskadine M 100, and XTRA 1133 were all titled On the Road Again, and released around 1969, in 1971, and in 1973, respectively. Nighthawk 102 is Chicago Slickers 1948-1953, an LP released in 1976. P-Vine Special PLP 9038 is an LP relesed in Japan in 1982, Delmark DL-648 (LP) and Delmark DD 648 (CD) are The Blues World of Little Walter (1984 and 1993). P-Vine Special PLP-364 was the Japanese reissue of Delmark DL-648. Black Gold Heritage BGH 3370 was a 7-inch 33 rpm LP released in in Italy in 1990, as a bonus to a 3-LP set titled Little Walter: Neglected Masters.

Parkway released only two the Little Walter tracks, "Just Keep Lovin' Her" (H-511) and "Moonshine Blues" (H-517), both as by the Little Walter Trio. Chicago bar band blues in the immediate postwar era was very much a folk form, where musicians used verses, melodies, and riffs from other songs to build new songs, and the songs on the Parkway session were fully or partly derivative. Extraordinarily, on three of the four Walter sides the greatest blues harmonica talent in the world put down his harp to play guitar. Though Walter's guitar sound is heavy, almost doom-laden, his lead work on these sides is more than acceptable.

The one song where his harmonica prevailed was the best of the four, the highly propulsive and swinging "Just Keep Lovin' Her," which was a remake of his Ora Nelle side from 1947. The originally issued take is clearly the better of the two still extant; take 3 is noticeably shortened (at 2:14) because the band muffed the beginning. On "Moonshine Blues" Walter sings about his girl’s fondness for moonshine, using the melody from a 1938 Sonny Boy Williamson song, "Whiskey Headed Woman." Muddy Waters took the lead over on the instrumental chorus. "Muskadine" represented an even heavier borrowing, in which the Walter used the melody, chorus, and one of the verses from Robert Junior Lockwood’s 1941 tune "Take a Little Walk with Me." The last Walter number, "Bad Actin’ Woman," is a medium tempo blues that Glover, Dirks, and Gaines describe as a journeyman effort, saying that it borrowed "generic verses from the blues stockpile."

Little Walter,
From the collection of Victor Pearlin

The Little Walter tracks, like those of Leroy Foster, had a rather convoluted history, following Fred Mendelsohn from label to label. Under Mendelsohn’s Regal imprint, two of the trio’s sides that never saw release on Parkway, "Muskadine Blues" (H-516); and "Bad Actin' Woman" (no H number, but given the number R-1357 by Regal), appeared in September 1950.

Little Walter,
From the collection of Victor Pearlin

Little Walter,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Little Walter,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

In 1953, with Little Walter riding high as a solo artist for Checker with the number one "Juke" and other hits under his belt, Mendelsohn, now trying to get Herald going, thought he might garner a little green by releasing some of the Parkway sides. He put out two singles as by "Little Walter." One single paired "Muskadine Blues," which Herald retitled as "Take a Walk with Me" (H-516), with "Just Keep Lovin' Her" (H-511). The other "Little Walter" single, as explained above, actually consisted of two of Foster’s numbers.

Baby Face,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

By 1954, with Mendelsohn at Savoy, a Leroy Foster release attributed to "Baby Face" showed up on Savoy 1122, mistakenly pairing Little Walter's "Moonshine Blues," which was called "Moonshine Baby," with "Red Headed Woman." The single was reissued in 1956 as Savoy 1501.

Baby Face,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Parkway 505 (45 rpm) is a 7-inch single released in May 2012 by Louis Records. Parkway 505 couples the recently discovered take 1 of "Boll Weevil" (see previous listing) with the previously unissued take 3 of "Just Keep Lovin' Her."

Now we have two blues mysteries. Passis told Jim O'Neal that Sunnyland Slim had recorded for the label—so what happened to the sides? And Memphis Minnie was also identified as a Parkway artist in a Down Beat item—so what happened to hers? The Minnies have been hiding in plain sight for all these years, and Sunnyland Slim played on them. Fred Mendelsohn issued some material from them on Regal, and many years later sold the masters to others. The reissues have all misidentified the tracks as having been recorded by Regal, and have sometimes given wildly inaccurate recording dates. Jimmy Rogers also recorded for Parkway, but not on the Leroy Foster sesson as we had previously thought—instead, he sang and played one number, either in between the Leroy Foster session and the Memphis Minnie session, or at the end, while Muddy Waters and Little Walter were still on the premises. Our thanks to Wayne Goins (communication of December 13, 2007) for helping to sort out these messes.

Pk3. Memphis Minnie and her Jumping Boys

Memphis Minnie [Lizzie Douglas] (voc, eg); Little Son Joe [Ernest Lawlars] (eg); Sunnyland Slim (p); Ernest "Big Crawford (b); Leroy Foster (d).

Chord Distributors, Chicago, late January 1950

R 1214-1 Down Home Girl
Biograph LP 12035, Biograph BCD 124, Wolf WBCD-010
R 1215-1 Night Watchman Blues
Biograph LP 12035, Biograph BCD 124, Wolf WBCD-010
R 1215-2 Night Watchman Blues
Biograph LP 12035, Biograph BCD 124, Wolf WBCD-010
R 1216-1 Why Did I Make You Cry
Regal 3259, Biograph LP 12035, Biograph BCD 124, Wolf WBCD-010
R 1217-1 Kidman Blues
Regal 3259, Wolf WBCD-010
R 1217-2 Kidman Blues
Savoy MG 16000, Biograph LP 12035, Biograph BCD 124, Wolf WBCD-010

This session has previously been dated 1949 in most discographies (Fancourt and McGrath hedge it and say "1949/50"). In all cases, it has been credited as recorded by Regal.

But Memphis Minnie was announced in a press release as a Parkway artist. And Mendelsohn had a licensing deal with Parkway while it was still running—if he hadn't also acquired a piece of the operation. He then acquired most of the company's mortal remains after it closed.

Only two sides from this session were released in 1950. They appeared on Regal 3259, the first on that label to be derived from Parkway—in April 1950, while Parkway was still in business. Regal 3259 was included in a Regal advertisement in Billboard on April 8, 1950 (p. 46) and in the company's Cash Box advertisement on April 15. The highest numbered single mentioned in the ad was Regal 3262. On May 13, Billboard (p. 139) reviewed 3259 alongside 3258 by Paul Gayten with Annie Laurie, which had been included in the same release. There was no further action during Mendelsohn's months at Herald, but another side from the session (the second take of "Kidman") first appeared on a Savoy LP when Fred Mendelsohn was working there.

Here's how we reconstruct the lease (or outright purchase) of the Memphis Minnie sides. They were recorded on the same occasion as the Baby Face Leroy items. But by the time Parkway was getting its first record (501) into the stores, Leonard Chess had gotten Muddy Waters to redo "Rollin' and Tumblin'" for Aristocrat, and Aristocrat 412 was also arriving. The intent was to step on sales of the Parkway; the mission was accomplished. Probably the same week as the bad news arrived about the Aristocrat, Passis got notices from the Leaners, who were leaving Chord to start a competitor. So he turned to Fred Mendelsohn to find an outlet for the Memphis Minnie sides he had recorded but not yet scheduled for release on Parkway. And he would do the same with the sides from his next session, by Roosevelt Sykes from March 14, 1950—if Mendelsohn was not already helping to pay for it.

"Down Home Girl" and the two takes of "Night Watchman" were released in 1971 on Blind Willie McTell / Memphis Minnie: Love Changin' Blues, Biograph LP 12035. The rest of Side B consisted of "Ludella" by Jimmy Rogers (Pk4), while Side A was given over to six of Blind Willie McTell's Regal sides, which were recorded in Atlanta.

Biograph BCD 124, Memphis Minnie: Early Rhythm & Blues 1949, was a various-artists CD released in 1992. Only the tracks by Pee Wee Hughes (definitely) and Little Brother Montgomery (probably) were recorded in 1949.

Wolf WBCD-010, Memphis Minnie: The Complete Postwar Recordings Volume 3, was released in 1992. It includes her complete last session for Columbia, her complete Parkway/Regal session, her complete session for Checker, and her and Little Son Joe's tracks from the October 1953 session for JOB.

The studio ambiance is unusual, with lots of whooping and hollering in evidence (for instance, on "Kidman Blues" where Minnie breaks out in raucous laughter after vocally imitating a train leaving the station). Most likely, these sides immediately followed the legendary Baby Face Leroy and Little Walter sessions. This would also make sense of the story that Jimmy Rogers arrived late for the session; he is not playing on the Leroy and Walter sides.

What's more, the drumming seems to be work of Leroy Foster, mainly relying on his feet. Discographers haven't previously recognized that the drummer is present, albeit recessed, on all of the tracks.

Pk4. Jimmy Rogers

Jimmy Rogers (eg, voc); Muddy Waters (eg); Little Walter (hca); Sunnyland Slim (p); Ernest "Big" Crawford (b); Leroy Foster (d).

Chord Distributors, Chicago, late January 1950

"R 1218-2" Ludella
Biograph LP 12035, Boogie Disease BD 101/102, Biograph LP 12035, Biograph BCD 124

The single track by Jimmy Rogers, "Ludella," has proven enigmatic. For starters, the matrix number assigned to it in later years puts it at the end of the Memphis Minnie session, but the original R 1218 was from a six tune session (R 1218 to R 1223) by a gospel group, The Harmony Kings, who recorded for Regal in February 1950. "Leanin' on Jesus," released on Regal 3279, carried R 1218.

It was first released in 1971 on Blind Willie McTell / Memphis Minnie: Love Changin' Blues, Biograph LP 12035. The rest of Side B consisted of the Memphis Minnie tracks from Pk3, while Side A was given over to six of Blind Willie McTell's Regal sides, which were recorded in Atlanta in 1949. It next appeared on Boogie Disease BD 101/102, Take a Little Walk with Me: The Blues in Chicago 1948-1957, a limited-edition 2-LP set from 1972, where it was billed "Ludella No. 2." The surviving take has lost nearly all of its instrumental introduction (what's left comes in just before Rogers starts singing, and quits after a measly 2:00). Mark Mumea identifies the lead guitarist as Muddy Waters and the second guitarist as Jimmy.

Jimmy Rogers had worked with Memphis Minnie in the late 1940s, and claimed to have recorded with her—but the when and where were long unclear.

Robert Jenkins,
From the collection of Helge Thygesen

The next sesion to produce an actual Parkway release (perhaps also the last—that depends on what happened to the Bennie Green single) featured Robert Jenkins, of whom we know essentially nothing. He has been identified as the harmonica player, but even that is unclear.

Leadbitter and Slaven say the harmonica player on the session was Robert Jenkins and the lap steel guitar was played by Gene Pierce.

The harmonica player, experts all agree, is an adept of John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, and an accomplished one. After that the agreement stops. In 1950 in Chicago there were many practitioners of the Sonny Boy I style. One of them was Little Walter, who of course was already a Parkway artist. But there were many more, and comparisons are hard because most would never made a commercial recording. Was Robert Jenkins among them?

For that matter, Jimmy Rogers played the harmonica in a similar style, before he switched to guitar.

According to Mark Mumea, the harmonica work on side B is most likely the work of Little Walter. According to Scott Dirks, it probably isn't Little Walter, on the grounds that he advanced beyond this manner of playing in 1950.

Which leaves other mysteries. If Robert Jenkins was the leader, one would expect him to appear on both sides of the record. The harmonica player plays on one side. OK, so what did Jenkins play? The lap steel guitar is said to be the work of Gene Pierce. So was Jenkins the second guitarist? The drummer?

Worse yet, no one seems to know anything about either Jenkins or Pierce, suggesting neither stuck around Chicago for long. And the lap steel is played in a Country style, suggesting the performer was not exactly at the center of the Chicago blues scene—or of any other blues scene. The trail is old and cold.

There's also the matter of a composer credit to "Monroe." Monroe Passis did not take composer credit on other Parkway sides, so this is presumably someone else whose last name was Monroe. A band member?

Then there's the ending to Side B, P 106, where it appears the harmonica player has been taken out and shot. Maybe they ran out of tape, and didn't attempt another take?

Pk5. Robert Jenkins and Trio

poss. Little Walter (hca -1); poss. Gene Pierce (lap steel eg); unidentified (eg); unidentified (d); Robert Jenkins (unidentified insttument).

Chord Distributors, Chicago, early 1950

P 105 Steelin’ Boogie Pt. 1 (Jenkins-Monroe)
Parkway 103, Negro Rhythm 107
P 106 Steelin’ Boogie Pt. 2 -1 (Jenkins-Monroe)
Parkway 103, Negro Rhythm 107

This session could have been made in the Chord Distributors warehouse; if anything, the sound is cruder than on Pk1 through Pk4. Does the switch to a P series (for Passis?) signify that the Leaners had departed?

These sides have developed far less reissue interest. The only reissue we know of is an LP from 1978, Negro Rhythm 107, Goin' to Chicago Blues! The notes give the standard personnel with Jenkins on harmonica and Gene Pierce on the steel guitar. The other tracks on this various-artists assemblage were by Robert Jr. Lockwood, L. C. McKinley, J. B. Lenoir, Forest City Joe, Willie Mabon, and Sunnyland Slim (his two sides for Sunny, from later in 1950). All of the LP credits are pseudonymous ("Photos: Dudlow Tutwiler Archives"); in fact, it was the work of the late George Paulus.

Chris Bentley's review of the LP reissue in Blues Unlimited (1978) was none too encouraging about the Jenkins sides:

...this record is super-rare and deservedly so. After a loud explosion-type noise at the beginning...the listener is subjected to a boring couple of minutes of monotonous drumming, two-note boogie guitar providing the rhythm and a lead guitar producing Hawaiian-type licks. Anyone thinking this is anything like Elmo's classic ["Hawaiian Boogie"], beware: it's more like a senile Steve McGarrett. "Part 2" is at least redeemed by a good harp player who is emasculated in mid-stride.

Helge Thygesen (email communication, June 9, 2006) is more sympathetically inclined, at least toward Pt. 2: "the harmonica side is not that bad in my opinion. Maybe because it is so unlike anything else from the Chicago blues scene I find it interesting and I enjoy listening to it. It is a more primitive recording than anything else to come out on Parkway."

Robert Jenkins,
From the collection of Helge Thygesen

In early March, Passis joined with J. Mayo Williams (who in 1950 was between record labels; he had shut down his Harlem/Chicago/Southern/Ebony operation and would not be starting his new-model Ebony label until the beginning of 1952) in forming a personal management firm. "Thus far they have Memphis Minnie, Muddy Waters, Sunnyland Slim, Jimmy Rodgers [sic], Little Walter, Baby-Face Leroy, and St. Louis Jimmy under contract" (Billboard, March 11, 1950, p. 22). Right around this same time (the Billboard mention sits on the same page, immediately above the one about Passis and Wiliams) the Leaner brothers left Chord Distributors to set up their own company, United Record Distributors, the country’s first major black-owned distribution firm. It got off to a running start, with Prestige, New Jazz, and Swing Time among the labels it initially carried.

The Leaners had brought New Jazz to Chord and they promptly took it away. Years later, Ernie Leaner recalled that Monroe Passis needed him more than he needed Passis:

There was another fellow named Monroe Passis, who had a place called Chord Distributors, who was on his last leg in business. He didn't really have the financing. He was at one time a sales manager for a company called The Sampson Company [3201 S. Michigan], which distributed Columbia Records. He really didn't have a feel for what the Black thing was all about. Black recordings were called race records, which later became rhythm and blues. Monroe had some good lines, such as Atlantic and a few others. I brought over a number of the labels that M.S. was distributing when I left. George and I made Monroe, in almost a couple or three months, very healthy. (Interviewed by Charles Walton, November 1979)

Although Leaner had a point, Passis had gotten other good lines besides Atlantic before Ernie and George came to Chord. Regal itself was considered a fairly good line at the time.

The advent of United instantly altered the competitive balance among the distributors in Chicago. United didn't have to take accounts directly from Chord to bite into its business. In April Chord lost its Apollo account partly to the Leaners at United and partly to another competitor, Hy Frumkin of Frumkin sales ("Apollo Records Announce Nine Distributor Changes," Cash Box, April 22, 1950, p. 18). But already on April 1, Cash Box announced that Chord had lost Imperial—to Art Sheridan's American Record Distributors. In June American picked up Modern, another label Chord presumably would have wanted for itself (Cash Box, July 1, 1950, p. 9).

Although he was not an announced Passis-Williams client, a session by Roosevelt Sykes came along just after their announcement, and gives every indication of being a Parkway product released on Regal. A 6-tune session with just Sykes and drummer Jump Jackson is dated March 1950 by Fancourt and McGrath, and March 14, 1950 on the Delmark reissue CD. If accurate, the date is within Parkway's initial span of activity. And, having booked it some time in advance (we don't know which studio, or how long the waiting period would have been), Passis was about to cut 6 sides having just been apprised that George and Ernie Leaner were leaving Chord to start a competitor—and Leonard Chess had gotten Muddy Waters to rerecord "Rollin' and Tumblin"" for Aristocrat and was already distributing it just as the first Parkway got to market.

Pk6. Roosevelt Sykes

Roosevelt Sykes (voc except -1, p); Armand "Jump" Jackson (d).

Chicago, March 14, 1950

R 1224 Drivin' Wheel
Regal 3286, Delmark DD 773 [CD]
R 1225-1 Rock It
Delmark DD 773 [CD]
R 1225-2 Rock It
Regal 3269, Delmark DD 773 [CD]
R 1226 West Helena Blues
Regal 3286, Delmark DD 773 [CD]
R 1227 Mail Box Blues
Regal 3306, Delmark DD 773 [CD]
R 1228 Winter Time Blues
Regal 3306, Delmark DD 773 [CD]
R 1229 Blues 'n Boogie -1
Regal 3269, Delmark DD 773 [CD]

Dave Braun, the sales manager for Regal, announced the signing of Roosevelt Sykes to the label in a story datelined July 1, 1950, along with an elder blues artist referred to rather directly as "Blind Willie," not by his recording handle of Pig 'n' Whistle Red ("R. & B. Blue Notes," Billboard, July 8, 1950, p. 32). But the first release from this session, on Regal 3269, pre-dated Braun's announcement. Regal did not advertise it in Billboard, but on June 10, 1950, a Regal ad for new singles by Larry Darnell, the company's biggest selling artist, and others ran as high as 3274; a similar ad had run in Cash Box on June 3 (p. 16). And as we know from Memphis Minnie's release on Regal 3259, the company was already up to 3260 in early April. Regal 3269 was mentioned in a display ad in Cash Box, on July 15, 1950 (p. 31); the highest numbered release then was still 3274

In November, Regal saw fit to advertise Sykes on his second release, Regal 3286 ("Drivin' Wheel" b/w "West Helena Blues," Billboard, November 11, 1950, p. 42); the record also got a mention in a Cash Box ad (November 11, 1950, p. 17). The final release from the session, Regal 3306, we suspect was timed to fit one of the titles ("Winter Time Blues")—the end of the year seems right, and Regal 3309 and 3310 were announced as New Year's releases for 1951 (Cash Box, January 6, 1951, p. 14). Regal 3309 was reviewed two weeks later, Cash Box, January 20, 1951, p. 18), while Regal 3302 and 3309 were among the "Advance Rhythm & Blues Releases" in Billboard for January 20, 1951 (p. 24).

Sides from this session have been reissued on Document (a 1994 CD) and Delmark. The Delmark adds an alternate take. The Delmark CD, Chicago Boogie, also gives March 14, 1950 as the date for the session.

There is further Roosevelt Sykes material that saw release on Regal. It is most likely from April 1951 and will be covered below (see Re9, Re10, and Re12).

In April Passis signed the Blues Rockers, a band that included pianist Willie Mabon. They had recorded for Aristocrat in late 1949. The item in Billboard (April 15, 1950, p. 28) that mentioned this signing (calling the band the "Rhythm Rockers") also stated that Passis was considering signing trombonist Bennie Green, which would constitute his first "jazz acquisition" according to the magazine. The "Rhythm Rocker" signing was also mentioned in Cash Box.

Green was recorded. We have no evidence of a Parkway session by the Blues Rockers.

If the personnel list that has come down to us is correct, the Bennie Green session featured some of the best young jazzmen in Chicago.

Pk7. Bennie Green's Band

Bennie Green (tb); Claude McLin (ts); Willie Jones (p); Gene Wright (b); Dorell Anderson (d).

Chicago, April 10, 1950

Pennies from Heaven
Parkway 1 [?]

unidentified title
Parkway 1 [?]

2 unidentified titles

This enigmatic listing is drawn from Tom Lord's Jazz Discography. Lord got it from Walter Bruyninckx. Bruyninckx seems to have derived his, in turn, from Jørgen Jepsen, who identified the group as "Bennie Green's Band" but listed only "Pennies from Heaven." The three unidentified titles were mentioned in the Jazz Directory for February 1952, and incorporated into Bruyninckx' discography. Our thanks to Howard Rye for tracing the history of this discographical entry back to 1952.

A contemporary announcement of the recording session was a two-paragraph blurb in Down Beat for May 5, 1950. It ran on page 4 under the title "Record Distributor Waxes Benny Green":

Chicago—Record distributor Monroe Passis, whose Parkway label has heretofore been limited to such artists as Muddy Waters, Memphis Minnie, Sunnyland Slim, and so on, planned to record Benny [sic] Green's new band for its first pop release.
Among the four sides cut April 10 was Pennies from Heaven, tune most closely associated with former Ventura trombonist Green.

The alleged release number (with no B side title) and the band personnel must have come from another source not yet traced.

Was a Parkway 1 ever released? If so, does anyone possess such a rare artifact? Could tapes still be extant?

Parkway was still in business in July 1950, because Monroe Passis attended a record industry trade show in Chicago and his presence was duly noted in Billboard. The only new recording activity, however, was an Eddie Boyd session that took place during the week of the show. It was actually mentioned in Billboard (July 22, 1950, p. 16) as a Regal project. We know that it was done for Regal, that Dave Braun had been in town in June (Cash Box, June 24, 1950, p. 11), and that both Brauns and Fred Mendelsohn were in the city when the session took place; we don't know for sure that Passis was involved, but he had multiple business relationships with Mendelsohn, and attended the same convention. Of further interest: during the same visit, Mendelsohn made an agreement to lease sides from another small Chicago operation, Jazz Ltd.. What Eddie Boyd got out of it was one release on Regal and, much later, one on Herald.

Pk8. Eddie Boyd

Eddie Boyd (p, voc); unidentified (tp); undidentified (ts); Sam Casimir (eg); unidentified (b); unidentified (d).

Chicago, c. July 13, 1950

R 1326 Why Don't You Be Wise, Baby
Regal 3305, Blues Collection [Fr] 16002 [CD]
R 1327
H 1016*
I Gotta Find My Baby (Lonesome for My Baby*)
Regal 3305, Herald 406*, Blues Collection [Fr] 16002 [CD]
H 1017 I'm Goin' Downtown
Herald 406, Blues Collection [Fr] 16002 [CD]

An article in Billboard about doings at and around the National Association of Music Manufacturers convention in Chicago, which took place July 11 through 15, 1950, mentions that Dave and Jules Braun and Fred Mendelsohn were all present and that "While in Chi, the firm cut Eddie Boyd, local blues singer" ("NAMM Men Alerted for Biz; Distributors Flock to View New Lines, Labels, and Plans," July 22, 1950, p. 16). Monroe Passis was also there—it was the last time he was identified in print as a record company executive.

Little is known about this outing, a contender for the most obscure in Eddie Boyd's entire output. Three tracks survive from it, with no alternate takes. Boyd's last session for RCA Victor had taken place on June 29, 1949. None of those four sides had een released on Victor (though three eventually appeared over half a century later on the Blues Collection CD). So then Boyd took his place at the back of a long line of blues artists cut by the label. Regal gave him his first recording opportunity in a year—and, not long afterward, he took his famous day job in the steel mill.

The notes to the only CD reissue, Eddie Boyd: The Complete Recordings 1947-1950 (Blues Collection 160002, released in France in 2001), fail to recognize that the Regal and the Herald release come from the same session. They put Bill Casmir on tenor sax on R 1326 and 1327. This can't be Bill Casimir, who never sounded nearly so rough. They put Bill's brother Sam on guitar, a much more credible identification. They identify Alfred Elkins as the bassist and Judge Riley as the drummer, on what basis we do not know. For H 1016 and 1017, Sam Casimir is given a possible, none of the others are identified, and a baritone sax is credited when none can be heard.

Besides, "I Gotta Find My Baby" and "Lonesome for My Baby" are the same take of the same song. The only difference is that this side of the Regal release (if the Blues Collection reissue reproduces it accurately) plays too slowly, running 14 seconds longer than the Herald, which sounds right. "Why Don't You Be Wise" does appear to be playing at the correct speed, so we're not sure what was going on with Regal 3305.

Regal 3305 was released in December 1950; Herald 406 some time between February and May 1953. As Herald 403 and 404, credited to Little Walter, tried to take advantage of his big recent sales on Checker, 406 tried to capitalize on the big hits Eddie Boyd had made for JOB and was making for Chess.

The liners to the Blues Collection CD refer to the session that produced Regal 3305 as "bordélique" (shambolic, a hot mess). Boyd is said to have regretted the release. But the same notes speak more favorably of Herald 406—which is from the same session. What we notice today is that the sides sound OK when played at the correct speed, but the raspy trumpet and buzzing tenor sax are a bit too prominent, Boyd's piano is recessed, and the rhythm is a little loose. It would be interesting to know who actually played on the session; besides Boyd and Sam Casimir, we really have no idea. In any event, the session came out decent, though not inspired.

Probably one or more of the principals at Regal was in town around the beginning of September 1950, when Record Distributors, Inc., was being set up (and Fred Mendelsohn was readying Little Walter masters for release on Regal 3296). Cash Box (September 9, 1950, p. 7) talked up "a whopper" of a lineup at the Regal Theatre, featuring Toni Harper, Larry Darnell, and Chubby Newsome. Darnell and Newsome were Regal artists.

At the beginning of 1951, there was a flurry of activity at Regal. The conpany released sides by Savannah Churchill, who had recorded for the label in December; signed singer Mary Lou Green; signed veteran jazz singer and bandleader Cab Calloway, and then there was this bit: "Regal execs Jules Braun and Fred Mendelsohn took off last week for a six-week tour of the coutnry; they will visit distrib points and hit the deejay routes as well" (Billboard, January 20, 1951, p. 24).

Although these activities sounded impressive, and were duly "hypoed" and "ballied" in the trades, Regal did one session on Savannah Churchill, leading to two releases. Her hits had been for Manor, and they were not replicated during her stay at Regal. By September 1951, the singer was with RCA Victor (Victor took out a full-page ad to promote her first release, Cash Box, September 15, 1951, p. 9). Calloway was likewise good for one sesson (February 1951) and two releases; Mary Lou Green got just one on Regal.

The remaining sessions on this page were done in Chicago, but after the six-week tour, and plausibly involve a Regal-Parkway or a Regal-Record Distributors nexus. Vague or conflicting dates have been given for all of them. At one time we thought the Sunnyland Slim session might have been grouped with the others that launched Parkway in January 1950. From the evidence of commercial releases on Regal and the numbers affixed to them (not necessarily right away) in the D-R 1000 matrix series, we have inferred they were clustered fairly tightly in April 1951. We don't know at present whether Fred Mendelsohn was in town when any of them were done. We know that Monroe Passis was there the whole time. We also don't know how much recording Regal was doing back home, or anywhere else, in April 1951—the early 1500s are at the tail end of the company's matrix series.

Re9. Roosevelt Sykes

Roosevelt Sykes (p, voc); J. T. Brown (ts); Ransom Knowling (b); Armand "Jump" Jackson (d).

Chicago, April 10, 1951

R 1501 Green Onion Top
Regal 3324, Delmark DD 773 [CD]
R 1502 Wonderin' Blues
Regal 3324, Delmark DD 773 [CD]

Chicago Boogie
Delmark DD 773 [CD]

Security Blues
Delmark DD 773 [CD]

Regal matrix numbers are extant only for the two sides released on Regal 3324. A reasonable guess is that the other two sides were meant to be R 1500 and 1503, but we don't know which was which.

A 4-tune session, on which Roosevelt Sykes and Jump Jackson are joined by J. T. Brown on tenor sax, is said to be from April 1951; the Delmark CD reissue says April 10. On April 5, the saxophonist, freshly back in town from 6 to 8 weeks down South, had just contracted for 6 weeks at the Hollywood Rendezvous.

Regal's release rate was decelerating: Regal 3321 (a Cab Calloway single) was reviewed in Cash Box on May 5, 1951 (p. 15). Sykes' single on Regal 3324 was annnounced in Billboard on June 16, 1951 (p. 82) and reviewed on June 30 (p. 31). Cash Box reviewed it on June 16 (p. 13). Regal got it out just in time: the next month Sykes, identified as "ex-Victor and Regal" ("Mum Is Word of Execs," Billboard, July 28, 1951) was recording for United. If he signed a one-year contract with Regal around July 1, 1950, it would have just had time to expire.

"Chicago Boogie" is a short instrumental, probably done impromptu at the session, but "Security Blues" is already a developed performance. Sykes would remake the piece for United. If Regal was interested in putting these sides out, it ran out of time—and a Herald release of "Security Blues" would have had to compete with the United.

Re10. Essie Sykes

Essie Sykes (voc); Roosevelt Sykes (p); prob. Robert Nighthawk (eg); unidentified (b); unidentified (d).

Chicago, prob. April 1951

R 1504 Easy Walkin' Papa
Regal 3330
R 1505 Please Don't Say Goodbye
Regal 3330

The exact identity of Essie Sykes remains uncertain, but she was related to Roosevelt in some kind of way. The R series numbers suggest the same session as Re9, or one following close in time. The identity of the guitarist is also still under discussion.

We don't know whether more Essie Sykes sides were recorded. We don't currently know of Regal tracks with matrix numbers between R 1506 and R1512.

Regal 3329 (by Paul Gayten) was reviewed in Cash Box on August 18, 1951 (p. 17). Was 3330 the very last Regal 78 in the original post-DeLuxe series? As far as we can tell, yes. The 4-volume R&B Indies ends its Regal listing at 3329.

Re11. Sunnyland Slim

Sunnyland Slim (p, voc); Oliver Alcorn (ts); Robert Jr. Lockwood (eg); Ernest "Big" Crawford (b); Alfred "Fat Man" Wallace (d).

Chicago, poss. April 19, 1951

R 1512 I Done You Wrong
P-Vine Special [J] PLP 9038, Airway AR-4279, Delmark DL 648, P-Vine [J] PLP-364, Delmark DD 648 [CD], Classics 5035 [CD]
R 1513 Orphan Boy Blues
Regal 3327, Airway AR-4279, Classics 5035 [CD]
R 1514 When I Was Young
Regal 3327, Biograph LP 12010, Classics 5035 [CD]
R 1514 [alt.] When I Was Young
Biograph LP 12010, Biograph BCD 124
R 1514 B (Low Down) Sunnyland Train
P-Vine Special [J] PLP 9038, Airway AR-4279, Delmark DL 648, P-Vine [J] PLP-364, Delmark DD 648 [CD], Classics 5035 [CD]

These sides have always been credited as new recordings for Regal, but with suspiciously varying dates (April 19, 1949 or April 19, 1951).

Regal was probably done issuing new material in September 1951, and the last few rolled out slowly. Regal 3326 (by Billy Ford) was reviewed in Cash Box on June 30, 1951 (p. 18). Regal 3327 was reviewed in Billboard on August 18, 1951 (p. 74).

Given Sunnyland's role in the Memphis Minnie/Jimmy Rogers session, he could have recorded his own material in early 1950. We thought the "room" sound on "Orphan Boy Blues" (especially) and "Sunnyland Train" pointed to the warehouse, but the other tracks from the session don't have it, so it was probably an artifact of differential mastering. The personnel are as listed in Fancourt and McGrath. Robert Jr. Lockwood is easily recognized, and the drummer on this session is definitely not Leroy Foster.

There are two arguments for a 1951 date for these sides. First, Robert Jr. Lockwood is on them. Second, the R series numbers that were attached to them prior to their release on Regal put them in between the Roosevelt Sykes numbers from April 1951 and the St. Louis Jimmy sides with Sykes and Lockwood. Had they been cut for DeLuxe in April 1949, they would have carried numbers in the D 900s.

After Mendelsohn decided what to release on Regal, the tracks from this session ended up being split three ways. Two went to Delmark and its Japanese licensee, P-Vine Special, though P-Vine beat Delmark to market. Then they found their way to Sunnyland's own Airway label. Two appeared on Biograph. And "Orphan Boy Blues" was released on Regal, then sat until Airway picked it up in 1983.

Biograph LP 12010, After Hour Blues, was released in 1969. The LP was split among St. Louis Jimmy and Sunnyland Slim (Side A), and Little Brother Montgomery (Side B), with Fred Mendelsohn the obvious source for everything but two Paramount sides by Little Brother. On the LP, the two takes of R 1514 are labeled "When I Was Young (Shake It Baby)." Sunnyland combines elements of both songs (which have the same melody and rhythm).

Biograph BCD 124,Memphis Minnie: Early Rhythm & Blues 1949 was a various-artists CD released in 1992. Only the tracks by Pee Wee Hughes (definitely) and Little Brother Montgomery (probably) were recorded in 1949. Just the alternate of "When I Was Young" was included from this session.

The P-Vine/Delmark compilations (all including the same tracks) were titled Down Home Chicago Blues: Black Music in the 1950s Volume 5 (P-Vine Special PLP-9038, released 1982), and The Blues World of Little Walter (Delmark DL 648, released 1984; Delmark DD 648, released 1993, and P-Vine Special PLP-364).

Sunnyland Slim started his own label, Airway, in 1973. Airway AR-4279, Be Careful How You Vote, was an LP compilation of Sunnyland sides from 1950-1951 (the liners said 1949), 1954, and 1983; it was released in 1983. In his own notes, Sunnyland gave the same personnel we have listed above, except he referred to the saxophonist as Oliver "Crawford."

The entire session (minus one alternate take) was finally brought back together on Classics 5035, Sunnyland Slim 1949-1951, which was released in 2001.

Re12. St. Louis Jimmy

St. Louis Jimmy (voc); Roosevelt Sykes (p); Robert Lockwood Jr. (eg); Ernest "Big" Crawford (b).

Chicago, poss. April 19, 1951

D 1538 [?]
H 1018
Hard Luck Boogie (Hard Work Boogie)
Herald 407, Biograph LP 12010, Biograph BCD 124, Document DOCD-5235
D 1539
H 1019
Good Book Blues (Tryin' to Change My Ways*)
Herald 407, Savoy LP 16000, Document DOCD-5235*
D 1540
H 1028
Your Evil Ways
Herald 408, Biograph LP 12010, Biograph BCD 124, Document DOCD-5235
D 1541
H 1029
Whisky Drinkin' Woman (I Sit Up All Night*)
Herald 408, Biograph LP 12010*, Biograph BCD 124*, Document DOCD-5235*

State Street Blues
Biograph BLP 12010, Biograph BCD 124, Document DOCD-5235

This session has been dated June 19, 1949, which is not credible, and April 19, 1951, which is. First, Robert Jr. Lockwood is on guitar. He wasn't recording in Chicago in 1949 and he was in 1951. Second, Roosevelt Sykes is the pianist, and he was recording for Regal, directly or via Parkway, during 1950 and the first half of 1951. In June 1949, Sykes was still under contract to RCA Victor. Third, St. Louis Jimmy was announced in March 1950 as an artist represented by Monroe Passis and Mayo Williams. Fourth, the matrix numbers that Mendelsohn assigned to these sides, either originally or a little after the fact, come after the sessions by Roosevelt Sykes, Essie Sykes, and Sunnyland Slim in the Regal matrix series. DeLuxe (or Merit?) masters from June 1949 would have been in the D 900s or the very low D 1000s. When Regal closed, at the beginning of November 1951, Mendelsohn, like the Braun brothers, was at least briefly affiliated with DeLuxe, now a King subsidiary. He could have attached the D prefix during this period. The last R series numbers from an actual newly recorded Regal release are R 1525 and R 1526 (from Regal 3326 by Billy Ford and Joan Shaw).

Herald 408 was the only pre-410 release to draw a review from a trade publication; it actually got two (Billboard, May 9, 1953, p. 40; Cash Box, May 16, 1953, p. 20). The reviews confirm that "Whiskey Drinkin' Woman" was the original title to D 1541; the Cash Box reviewer, who liked the record, thought "Whiskey" wasn't just the same tune but the same performance that St. Louis Jimmy had recently cut for Duke. A pardonable mistake, as Herald avoided telling anyone that this was material from 2 years back. The H numbers were purely a function of when Herald prepared the sides for release.

On "State Street Blues," which didn't see release till Biograph acquired this material from Fred Mendelsohn, the snapback bass work is obviously Big Crawford's (also note the snapbacks on "Hard Work Boogie"). And the pianist isn't Sykes. Suspicion consequently falls on St. Louis Jimmy himself (for years, he'd avoided entanglement with the Musicians Union by not playing on his recording dates).

Biograph LP 12010, After Hour Blues, was released in 1969. The LP was split among St. Louis Jimmy and Sunnyland Slim (Side A), and Little Brother Montgomery (Side B), with Fred Mendelsohn the obvious source of everything but two Paramount sides by Little Brother.

Biograph BCD 124,Memphis Minnie: Early Rhythm & Blues 1949 was a various-artists CD released in 1992. Only the tracks by Pee Wee Hughes (definitely) and Little Brother Montgomery (probably) were recorded in 1949. Document DOCD-5235, St. Louis Jimmy Oden Volume 2: 1944-1955 was released in 1994. The credits to the Document make no mention of Herald 408, either because no one had heard of it or because the compilers weren't sure which tracks had been on it. But then the liner notes describe Herald as a Chicago-based label and imply that it was active between 1949 and 1951.

By the time these sessions were done, Regal had about six months left. Its RFD subsidiary didn't last long: the only Cash Box review (May 12, 1951, p. 10) we've seen on an RFD was (oddly) for a single by big band leader Bob Chester, who in 1950 and 1951 was attempting a comeback. Mendelsohn had briefly operated a Merit label in 1949; in May 1951, Regal tried to relaunch it as a subsidiary selling 49 cent singles. This effort was probably good for a month or two ("Two New Labels Set to Issue Disks at 49c Retail with Special Price to Ops," Cash Box, May 5, 1951, p. 11; Merit 307 was reviewed on June 9, 1951, p. 18, but we know of no further releases on the budget label). In July "Julie" Braun and Fred Mendelsohn were in Chicago for the NAMM convention (Cash Box, July 28, 1951, p. 9), but to our knowledge they neither leased anything from local labels or did any recording. On August 4, Cash Box mentioned Savannah Churchill singing at the Hi Note in Chicago but did not refer to Regal or to her recordings for the company.

After Parkway—The Musicians

The Parkway session of Muddy Waters was considered a bit of moonlighting by Leonard Chess. While he was not named as a performer on the record, his fervent guitar playing and verbal whoops and interjections ("Play a long time!") made Muddy's presence obvious. Little Walter and Leroy Foster each referred to him by name on the records, and the company was indiscreet enough to give him composer credit for "Rollin' and Tumblin'." Some of the musicians told Chess about the session. Said Passis, "They went and told him what they had done and Chess said, ‘Let’s record it and kill it.’" Almost immediately (we figure it was no more than two weeks after the Parkway outing), Leonard Chess had Muddy at Univeral Recording cutting a new version of "Rollin' and Tumblin'" with bassist Big Crawford for release on Aristocrat. Another two-part recording, this too was excellent, but it did not match the primal energy of the Foster version. Nonetheless, Waters was surging in popularity at this time and there is little doubt that his version outsold the Foster version.

In fact, Aristocrat, despite recording later, probably got 412 into the stores around the same time as Parkway 501 (and Aristocrat's distribution was much better). The Defender reviewed the Parkway on March 11, 1950. But on that same date, Aristocrat was already advertising 412 in Cash Box (up to that point, Aristocrat's big push had been for 411 by Gene Ammons—412 was now suddenly added). Cash Box did review the Parkway—but not until April 8 (p. 16), and the review was surprisingly tepid.

This February session also produced "Rollin’ Stone," the first Waters side to be released on the Chess imprint. Waters by this time had emerged as the preeminent blues artist from Chicago. We can also be sure that the Chess brothers put the kibosh on Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, and Little Walter remaining under the personal management of Monroe Passis and J. Mayo Williams.

In August 1950, the Chess brothers finally acknowledged the broader lesson of the Parkway episode. They began including Little Walter on Waters' recording sessions; Jimmy Rogers shared the session with Muddy in August and began playing on Muddy's own sessions starting in October 1950. Recording for Chess, Muddy Waters put 15 songs on the national R&B charts from 1951 to 1958. In the 1960s, Chess tried to broaden Waters’ audience with folk-styled and rock-styled albums, which were sometimes commercial if not critical successes. Remaining with Chess after the sale of the company and the death of Leonard Chess, Waters eventually signed with Blue Sky, where under the production aegis of Johnny Winter he recorded four albums in a more traditional manner from 1977 to 1981. Waters died on 30 April 1983, in Westmont, Illinois.

After his Parkway session, Jimmy Rogers signed with Chess Records, which used his smooth vocals on many terrific recordings, beginning with "That's All Right" from an August 1950 session done back to back with one by Muddy Waters. Rogers continued as rhythm guitarist in the Muddy band until 1955, appearing on most of Waters' Chess recordings during that period, and recorded under his own name for Chess until 1959. He was mostly retired from the music business during the 1960s, but returned to recording in 1972 on the Shelter label. Other LPs followed, for Black and Blue (1973), JSP (1982), Antone's (1990), and Bullseye (1994). Rogers died in Chicago on December 19, 1997.

Little Walter after the Parkway recordings concentrated on his harmonica to the greater benefit of the blues world (he made just two further appearances on guitar, on two sides cut with Muddy Waters in 1951). But he would not record as a leader again for some two years. From July 1950 to August 1952, Walter performed and recorded with the Waters band; he was also used on Chess sessions with Jimmy Rogers, Floyd Jones, Eddie Ware, Memphis Minnie, and John Brim. After he recorded his gigantic hit, "Juke," for Checker in May 1952, however, he went on to one of the most successful recording careers of any Chicago blues artist, scoring 14 Top Ten R&B hits. By the end of the 1950s, his hitmaking was at an end. The 1960s saw blues decline in the black community, along with Walter’s decline into alcoholism and bar fights. After one blow to the head too many, Walter died in Chicago on February 15, 1968.

After leaving Muddy's group for good, Leroy Foster cut three sessions for JOB in 1950 (later reissued on Chess), 1951, and 1952. He backed Mildred Richards and Snooky Pryor on their1950 sessions for JOB; backed J. B. Lenoir on his debut session (made in 1950 for JOB but dealt to Chess); and accompanied Sunnyland Slim on two sides cut in October 1950 for the Sunny label. Foster's 1952 sides remained unissued for decades, and he never recorded again, dissipating his career in alcoholism. He died in Chicago, on 26 May 1958.

Parkway's failure to do anything with his first session as a leader did no discernible harm to Bennie Green's career. He didn't hang around town waiting for his single to be released. By April 26, he was in New York City recording with Gene Ammons for Prestige; on May 18 and 19 he was part of an all-star ensemble that backed Sarah Vaughan for Columbia. In fact Green would record in Chicago just once more, when he made four titles with strings for Prestige in 1952. In his next opportunity as a leader, Bennie Green recorded 4 sides for Jubilee in August 1950; all of these were released. In 1951 and 1952 he led sessions for Prestige. From 1951 to 1953 he was a member of Earl Hines' last big band. Green then worked for over a decade as a leader of quintets; he shared the front line with such tenor saxophonists as Frank Foster, Charlie Rouse, Jimmy Forrest, and Johnny Griffin. After leaving Hines in 1953, he made a 10-inch LP for Decca. He did three LPs for Prestige (1955 and 1956), four for Blue Note (1958 and 1959), and one each for Vee-Jay (1959), Enrica (1960), Time (1960), Bethlehem (1960), and Jazzland (1961), and made numerous sideman appearances in the studio. His last sides as a leader were done for Prestige in 1967. For two stretches in 1968 and 1969 he performed and recorded with Duke Ellington. Later in 1969, he settled in Las Vegas, where he worked regularly in hotel bands. He made his last appearance on record in 1972, during a Newport in New York festival, and died in San Diego on March 23, 1977.

After Parkway sessions, Claude McLin's fortunes improved for a while when Chess recorded his version of "Mona Lisa" in July 1950—it would be his only hit. "Tennessee Waltz," cut in October 1950, was intended as a follow-up but Schoolboy Porter's rendition on Chance outsold it. McLin also appeared on a fan's tape recording of an October 1950 Charlie Parker set at the Pershing Ballroom. After another session for Chess in 1951, McLin became fed up with the lack of steady work in Chicago; early in 1952, he moved his family to Los Angeles. There he found plentiful gigs in clubs and occasional studio work, appearing on an Amos Milburn session for Aladdin (1954) and cutting for small labels such as Golden Tone (1958), Dootone (also 1958), his own Mac-Jac enterprise (1960 and 1963), and Allegro/C&C (1962). But his final effort, for Dootone in 1963, found him attempting garage rock. The demand for Claude McLin's music dried up after 1965 and he took a job driving a bus for Avis Rent-a-Car at the Los Angeles International Airport. Claude McLin retired from Avis around 1993 and died in Los Angeles on July 21, 1995.

Willie Jones remained at the Macomba until the club burned down in October 1950. For the next decade he enjoyed steady work in various Chicago-area clubs with quartets and trios. He picked up occasional studio gigs backing doo-wop groups (the Five Blue Notes for Sabre in 1953, the Five Echoes for the same label in 1954 and the Flamingos for Chance that same year, the Flamingos for Parrot later in 1954, and three sessions for Parrot/Blue Lake in 1955). He got his sole opportunity to record as a leader, for Vee-Jay in 1954; "My Thing" and "My Other Thing" are precursors to the music of Cecil Taylor. Willie Jones also appeared on the LPs that Clark Terry and Paul Gonsalves cut for the Chess brothers' Argo label in 1957. Jones continued his piano playing and singing in the clubs during the 1960s and early 1970s (regrettably, his vocals were never recorded). His last appearances on record were with Tommy "Madman" Jones for the saxophonist's M&M label (1963 and early 1970s). After 1972, Willie Jones' health declined; he died of arteriosclerosis in Chicago on December 31, 1977.

Gene Wright next recorded with Gene Ammons, on the saxophonist's last session for Aristocrat (May 1950). He was Ammons' regular bassist until May 1951, appearing on both of the tenor man's sessions for Chess. Subsequently, he moved to the West Coast, where he worked with Buddy DeFranco, Red Norvo, and Cal Tjader. He reached the height of his fame as a member of Dave Brubeck's quartet from 1957 to 1967, acquring the nickname "Senator" along the way. In his later years Wright has been active as a musician, a teacher, and a composer.

Dorell Anderson remained on the scene until the mid-1960s. Although somewhat more durable than Ike Day, he had a comparable series of run-ins with the Union:

Erased member Dorel [sic] Anderson, 9233 South Wentworth Avenue, appeared before the Board requesting permission to work with Union members and pay his $100.00 fine in weekly installments.
Anderson was given a severe reprimand by the Board for his lax attitude.
On motion, the Board ruled that Dorel Anderson shall be given permission to work and pay his $100.00 fine weekly on the following conditions:
  1. Anderson shall not be permitted to draw or make tabs.
  2. His salary shall be collected by the business agent and brought into the Local.
  3. If he insists on doing things detrimental to himself, he can be dismissed and the entire balance of his fine becomes due and payable immediately.
  4. He shall not have the benefit of any notice, which means the first time he is late or fails to appear on an engagement, he shall be dismissed immediately. (Board meeting minutes of Local 208, November 18, 1954, p. 1)

Dorell Anderson can be heard to advantage on a 1965 Charlie Parker memorial concert that was recorded by Mercury's Limelight subsidiary. Not long after that, he was murdered; according to Alvin Fielder, his body was found in the Chicago River.

After Parkway—The Principals

The departure of the Leaner brothers led Monroe Passis to reconsider his commitment to putting out records on his own label. Not only did he lose two managers, he lost a chunk of his business as the brothers steered clients to their new United Record Distributors setup, and other distributors started competing hard for R&B labels. ("No-compete" clauses weren't in use in the music business of the early 1950s.) By the Bennie Green session of April 10, 1950, Passis had already sold or leased two sides from the Memphis Minnie session to Regal, and was about to do the same with the Roosevelt Sykes session from March; it's even possible that he got Fred Mendelsohn to invest in the company after the Leaners left. The last time Monroe Passis was identified as the president of Parkway was when he attended the NAMM show at the Palmer House in July. In September Fred Mendelsohn released two Little Walter sides from the first Parkway session (one of them previously unissued) on Regal 3296.

The December 1950 telephone book shows no listing for Chord Distributors. That's because in September (the same month that Mendelsohn released two more of his masters) Passis shut Chord down and started a new company, unimaginatively called Record Distributors, Inc. It was a joint project of four companies: Atlantic, National, Regal, and Jubilee. Regal's direct participation speaks for itself. The new company was given 3 months to prove that it could make money. It passed the test. In January 1, Record Distributors, Inc., was not just going to the satisfaction of the four principal labels. Passis got the green light to add Tempo and Seeco to the lines he was carrying ("Rhythm and Blues Notes," Billboard, January 20, 1951, p. 24).

Passis had gotten a significant injection of capital and was handling four commercially quite record lines. But a joint venture with four record companies depended on the health of each of the four. National wasn't getting enough revenue back from its distributors and its costs (for instance, for pressings) were rising. In June 1951, Al Green sold National to his son, Irving, who ran Mercury. We don't know the date, as the sale received no public announcement—National simply evaporated from the trade papers after its last ad in Cash Box (June 9, 1951, p. 15). Anyhow, the transaction couldn't have exactly been a straight sale to Mercury. Nearly all of National's masters ended up with Savoy, not with Mercury, though the acquisition was not announced until 1957.

With National down, Regal was the next to fall. The company had overinvested in country music (starting a short-lived subsidiary called RFD), it had tried a low-budget label called Merit that didn't go anywhere, and its executives were convinced that their distributors were ripping them off on their children's records, which sold in volume but kept losing money. The last straw was being hit with Federal taxes on both the children's records and their packaging, which led the Brauns to file an unsuccesful court case. After its release stream thinned to a trickle, Regal closed in November, leaving Passis with Jubilee, Atlantic, plus Tempo, Seeco, maybe another small label or two—and making a faint noise about reviving Parkway. We don't know exactly what was happening with Jubilee, but Jubilee's owner, Jerry Blaine, was a distributor himself—he owned Cosnat out of New York City—and he could have rearranged his label's distribution at any time with minimal fanfare. In March 1952, James H. Martin, an established distributor in Chicago who had long carried labels that catered to white record buyers in the Midwest, then started his own Sharp label and parlayed it into joint ventures with London and MGM, acquired Atlantic. Passis, his lunch now entirely eaten, was out of the record business.

Most likely the remaining unsold Parkway 78s were destroyed when Passis closed Record Distributors, Inc.

Passis moved into running trade shows. Interestingly, in this new sphere he went as Ray Passis (in his music business days, the trades had always referred to him as Monroe). From the mid-1950s through the 1970s, operating Transworld Exhibits, he was one of the industry leaders, running the annual discount store trade show, and handling the huge housewares show on Navy Pier. He died on January 29, 2004, in Rancho Mirage, California.

During the 1950s, Ernie and George Leaner prospered with United Distributors. From 1962 to 1968, George operated the Oneder-ful/M-Pac!/Mar-V-lus label complex, recording such hard soul acts as McKinley Mitchell, Harold Burrage, Otis Clay, the Five Dutones, the Sharpees, Johnny Sayles, and Dorothy Prince, as well as a huge dance record star, Alvin Cash. Blues artists recording for the company included Lonnie Brooks, Big Daddy Rogers, and Andrew Tibbs. Following the closing of Oneder-ful, Ernie Leaner teamed with his son Tony to form Toddlin’ Town, which experienced moderate success recording such proto-funk acts as Bull and the Matadors and Thomas East before closing in 1971.

As the majors reclaimed a greater share of the record business, the Leaner brothers were forced to shut down United Distributors in 1974, turning the operation into a one-stop. They also opened up a chain of retail stores. However, by the end of the decade, both George and Ernie were largely out of the music business. George died September 18, 1983, in Chicago; and Ernie died April 17, 1990, in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Fred Mendelsohn had had several connections with Monroe Passis: Chord Distributors distributed Mendelsohn's short-lived Merit label before he started Regal; Chord got Regal the day the company started and kept it after the Leaners left; Regal was one of the four record companies that partnered with Passis in his new venture, Record Distributors, Inc., which replaced Chord in September 1950. Meanwhile Mendelsohn had picked up the Memphis Minnie sides from January 1950, the Roosevelt Sykes tracks from March, the Eddie Boyds from July 1950, and a slew of Roosevelt Sykes/Essie Sykes/St. Louis Jimmy/Sunnyland Slim items, all from April 1951 or thereabouts. Most important of all, he had acquired the Leroy Foster sides from January 1950. When and how Mendelsohn paid for all these tracks we don't know, but he relied on Passis to record most of them.

What sliced all the way through Mendelsohn's tangle of business relationships with Passis was his and the Brauns' decision to close Regal, in November 1951. Before leaving to run DeLuxe as a King subsidiary, they cut a deal with Danny Kessler, the A&R man for Columbia's OKeh subsidiary: OKeh got Larry Darnell, Paul Gayten, and Titus Turner ("OKeh Signs Regal Artists," Cash Box, November 17, 1951, p. 20). Darnell and Gayten had been Regal's top sellers; they were also former DeLuxe artists. Whatever Kessler was willing to pay them to transfer the contracts, he was willing to pay something, and the Braun brothers obviously didn't want these artists to end up under Syd Nathan's control. Passis was not able to restart Parkway afterward. In fact, losing Regal crippled his distribution business, which ended in March 1952.

When Regal closed, all that was left for Mendelsohn was the Tots 'n' Teens "kidisks" (we don't even know whether they lasted aonther minute—it's just that Syd Nathan didn't want to continue the line). Such work as needed doing for Tots 'n' Teens and the revived DeLuxe label (now a subsidiary of King) kept Mendelsohn occupied for around a year. (We infer that a one-year contract with DeLuxe was part of the set of deals.)

Around a year after Regal closed, Mendelsohn started Herald Records, a New York-based company. The company is almost always said to have opened in 1953, but Billboard was referring to the its first release in November 1952. This was in a music publisher's advertisement, because Herald couldn't afford to take out any of its own: Fats Noel, on Herald 401, was one of 22 artists to cut "You Belong to Me" (Billboard, November 22, 1952, p. 48). Meanwhile, on the strength of his first Checker release in August 1952, Little Walter had become a huge star in the R&B world. So after taking on pressing plant executive Al Silver as a partner in February 1953—401 and 402 were out by then, but this has been the date most often cited as the beginning of Herald—Mendelsohn put four of the Parkway sides on Herald under the name Little Walter.

Two of these were the Baby Face Leroy Trio’s "Boll Weevil" (H-512) and "Rollin’ and Tumblin’ Pt. 2" (H-514), the latter renamed "Rollin’ Blues." Virtually all surviving copies of Herald 403 and 404 are 78s, but according to Barry Soltz, both of the Heralds that bore Little Walter's name also came out on 45s (and he has provided a photo of 404). Eddie Boyd had hit for JOB in 1952 and was hitting for Chess in 1953, so Mendelsohn put two tracks from the July 1950 session (one previously unissued, the other merely retitled) on Herald 406. Finally, in May Herald tried four previously unissued St. Louis Jimmy sides from the last of the Regal/Parkway sesions. Perhaps there was a market for Herald 403, 404, 406, 407, and 408, but between February and May 1953 Mendelsohn and his partners couldn't afford to put anything behind their records, and sales on all were disappointing. The second St. Louis Jimmy, on Herald 408, was reviewed in Billboard on May 9 (p, 40) and in Cash Box on May 16.

Herald started making money on the strength of the Embers' release of "Paradise Hill" (Herald 410), which had been brought to the label by Al Silver. Because Silver was the one who had demonstrably profitable notions about who to record, he and his partners bought Mendelsohn out of the company before the end of June. The last Heralds that Mendelsohn had recorded were 411 by bluesman Blind Billy Tate, cut in New Orleans in 1953, and 412 by a gospel group, probably also cut during the last few months. Herald would score more hits—"Shake a Hand" by Faye Adams was a monster—and became a financially solid independent that remained active into 1964. In 1954 and 1955 there would even be more Herald blues releases, by Lightnin' Hopkins, but they came from an independent producer in Houston and Mendelsohn had nothing to do with them.

For 5 years, Fred Mendelsohn had resisted becoming an employee of Savoy, but in the end the gravitational forces wore him down. In December 1953 he went to work for Herman Lubinsky—initially for Regent, the label he had once owned—and in the end he became the president of Savoy, holding that position for many years. Though not initially given any responsibilities for Savoy's R&B and gospel lines, he soon got his foot in the door. In 1955 Mendelsohn produced "Don't Be Angry" by Nappy Brown; as Savoy turned more and more toward gospel, he was heavily involved in it. Though Mendelsohn left for a while in 1958, he again inevitably returned to Savoy, where he produced sessions during the 1960s. Mendelsohn would outlive Herman Lubinsky, who died in 1974, and continue with Savoy after Arista purchased the company from Lubinsky's estate. Fred Mendelsohn died on April 28, 2000.

The records live on. The original Parkways are extremely rare today, and have become highly sought-after collectors' items: "Rollin’ and Tumblin’" in 2005 was being offered at a starting bid of $2,000. The same auction was offering the Little Walter on Regal for a minimum bid of $1,000. The other Parkway-derived Regals aren't too cheap in our time, and neither are the Heralds. Those who are not enamored of paper and plastic at such prices fondly appreciate the great music from the legendary Parkway sessions; they are fortunate that Fred Mendelsohn acquired and preserved most of the masters, licensed some to Biograph, and many years later sold everything he still had to Delmark. Because of Fred Mendelsohn, the masters survived from the Baby Face Leroy, Jimmy Rogers, Memphis Minnie, Sunnyland Slim, Roosevelt Sykes, and St. Louis Jimmy sessions. He does not seem to have picked up the Robert Jenkins and Bennie Green masters; we can only hope they were not discarded.

Appendix: Non-Parkway-Non-Regal Sessions

After we learned about Passis' (and Regal's) participation in Record Distributors, Inc., we incorporated several sessions from 1951 into our main listing (we'd previously thought Passis was out of the music business in September 1950, when Chord Distributors closed, so could not have been involved in recording in 1951). Consequently our main story now stretches across the old "Parkway penumbra." It even adds sessions by Eddie Boyd, Roosevelt Sykes, and Essie Sykes that we had not previously considered, Still, there are a couple of other blues sessions that we know were plausibly cut in Chicago, ended up in the possession of Fred Mendelsohn, and were eventually dealt to Biograph or Delmark. We will review these quickly here. In our opinion, they were done before the opening of Merit Records in June 1949; i.e., before Fred Mendelsohn had a business relationship with Monroe Passis. (Of course, blues items recorded by Mendelsohn for Regal in Atlanta or at the home locatio in New Jersey are not relevant here, nor are the blues items that Mendelsohn newly recorded for Herald during his 7 or 8 months there.)

Four piano solos by Eurreal "Little Brother" Montgomery were supposedly recorded in Chicago on April 19, 1949. They were first released on Biograph BLP 12010 (three tracks reissued on Biograph BCD 124). These have apparently never had matrix numbers attached to them, but if they were made on April 19, 1949, Fred Mendelsohn was still working at Regent. A distinct possiblity, if the date is accurate, is that they were recorded in Chicago by Mayo Williams, whose Ebony/Harlem/Chicago/Southern company was winding down, then dealt to Mendelsohn later. Williams briefly collaborated with Monroe Passis in 1950, and Little Brother Montgomery would be an Ebony artist during the company's second incarnation, in the 1950s.

Two sides from a session by harmonica player Pee Wee Hughes, done in New Orleans in 1949, have shown up on Biograph BLP 12009 and BCD 124. Fred Mendelsohn may have recorded them, but the other two sides from the same session were released on DeLuxe before the Brauns left. Right before they left, on DeLuxe 3228; it was on the Billboard list of new releases on August 20, 1949 (p. 30). Not only are the sides pre-Regal, but the DeLuxe release carried matrix numbers (D) 1012 and 1013.


We relied heavily on researchers who preceded us in writing about Parkway; for the intertwined fates of Chord Distributors, Record Distributors, Inc., Regal, and the earliest edition of Herald, we were largely on our own. The best and most astute history of the first Parkway session appeared in Tony Glover, Scott Dirks, and Ward Gaines, Blues With a Feeling: The Little Walter Story (New York: Routledge, 2002). For quotations from and information about Monroe Passis we made heavy use of Jim O’Neal [liner notes essay] The Blues World of Little Walter, Delmark DD-648, 1993, plus email correspondence that he shared with us with Monroe’s daughter and Eric LeBlanc. For biographical information on Bennie Green, we consulted the entry on him by Mark Gardner in Barry Kernfeld (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (2nd edn., London: Macmillan, 2002, Volume 2, p. 85) and his section in Tom Lord's Jazz Discography, Volume 8 (Redwood, NY: Cadence Jazz Books, 1994).

We found good background on the first Parkway session from Muddy Waters’ viewpoint in Robert Gordon’s Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2002): 99-100. Also indispensable was Mike Rowe, Chicago Breakdown (London: Eddison Press, 1973): 74-76.

Primary sources included "Leaners Leave M&S for Chord," Billboard, 13 August 1949; Edward Myers, "About the Records," Chicago Defender, 11 March 1950; "Music—As Written," Billboard, 11 March 1950, p. 22; "Music—As Written," Billboard, 15 April 1950, p. 28; and "Record Distributor Waxes Benny Green," Down Beat 5 May 1950, p. 4.

For discographical information on the blues items we turned to Mike Leadbitter and Neil Slaven, Blues Records 1943-1970, Volume One, A to K (London: Record Information Services, 1987); Mike Leadbitter, Leslie Fancourt, and Paul Pelletier, Blues Records 1943-1970, Volume Two, L to Z (London: Record Information Services, 1994), and Fancourt and McGrath. Helping us to determine what was on the labels we relied on Bob McGrath’s The R&B Indies Volume One (West Vancouver, Canada: Eyeball Productions, 2000), and The R&B Indies Volume Two (West Vancouver, Canada: Eyeball Productions, 2000). For the Biograph LPs, the LP compilation on Negro Rhythm 107, and the Wolf Memphis Minnie CD, we relied on Stefan Wirz's comprehensive treatment at

We owe to Wayne Goins the point that the Chicago blues recordings that appeared on Regal were, as a rule, not actually recorded for that label (the Eddie Boyd session is the only one for Regal in Chicago that was identified as such in the trade press). Goins has convincingly argued that two blocks of material (one by Sunnyland Slim and another by Memphis Minnie) were of Parkway origin. Steve Franz pointed out the April 1950 release of Regal 3259 by Memphis Minnie, leading to us consider possibly heavier involvement by Fred Mendelsohn in the Parkway operation.

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