Thomas Edgar Shaw was born in Brenham, Texas, and as a young man he worked with Blind Lemon Jefferson, J. T. Smith and Ramblin’ Thomas. In the 1960s and 1970s he recorded for the Advent, Blue Goose and Blues Beacon labels.
He recorded “Hey Mr. Nixon” and “Martin Luther King”.
Shaw died during open heart surgery in February 1977.
A long biography:
Thomas Shaw came to the attention of the blues world in the late 1960’s when he walked into Lou Curtis’ Folk Arts Rare Records shop in San Diego looking for guitar strings. Shaw was from Brennam, Texas and had learned to play guitar in the late 1920’s from Blind Lemon Jefferson. He was a walking library of Texas blues, having played with Ramblin’ Thomas, J.T. “Funny Papa” Smith, Texas Alexander, and Willie “Little Brother” Lane. He also played some with a very young Mance Lipscomb. In the early 70’s Curtis wrote articles about Shaw for Living Blues and Blues Unlimited magazines and Shaw’s discovery garnered interest from record companies. Frank Scott came down and recorded Shaw for Advent Records in the backroom of Curtis’ store. The same year saw the release of the, now long out-of-print, record on the Blue Goose label with a final record cut in 1973 for the Blue Beacon label in Holland when Shaw toured Europe. A few scattered sides appeared on anthologies before his passing in 1977. Today’s show not only spotlights a batch of great sides by Shaw, but we also spin sides from many of the great Texas bluesman that he knew and played with like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Funny Papa Smith, Blind Willie Johnson, Smokey Hogg, Mance Lipscomb, Willie Lane and Ramblin’ Thomas.
Thomas Shaw only spent five years on the Texas house party circuit, leaving for San Diego in 1934, yet met an astonishing number of Texas blues legends. He was born in Brenham, Texas in 1908, a farming community between Austin and Houston. His was a musical family; his father played harmonica, guitar and accordion and Shaw learned acapella versions of spirituals on his father’s knee. His uncle Fred Rogers headed up a family string band and his cousins, Willie and Bertie, were first rate blues guitarists. His older brother Leon played piano and his brother Louis played harmonica. “They played old time blues music, what you call the root of the music. ‘Ella Speed’, ‘Take Mew Back Baby’, ‘See See Rider’. ‘Alabama Bound’, all of them songs was popular then.”
Shaw first played harmonica before picking up guitar in the early 20’s. The first song he mastered was “Out And Down”, a ragtime song that was played locally by his brother Louis and later recorded as “One Dime Blues” by Blind Lemon Jefferson. Shaw had already been enthralled by Jefferson’s early recordings of “Long Lonesome Blues” and “Matchbox Blues” when he met Jefferson on the town square of Waco in 1926 or 1927. “I followed all around that evening there, and then I started talkin’ to him, and naturally me being a kid he’s askin’ me different things: ‘You like the way I play this guitar?’ I told him ‘I love it!’ …Say: ‘How would you lie to do it?’ I say: ‘I sure wish I could do it!’ He says: ‘Well you can.’ I say: ‘I don’t know.’ He says: ‘Yes, you can …go and find you a guitar.’ .’..When you hear (of) me in town, you come where I am.’ At Blind Jefferson’s urging he bought himself a guitar and learned Jefferson’s “Long Lonesome Blues”. He learned many of Jefferson’s song from a combination of listening to the records and hearing him in person.
In the towns of Moody and nearby Temple, Shaw met Blind Willie Johnson whom he learned “Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying.” ” My father and Blind Willie Johnson used to work together, they both composed songs. My daddy would write ’em and make ’em into ballets and they’d sell ’em for fifteen cents a copy.” After spending a year in his mother’s home of Brenham in the late 20’s, Shaw began traveling as an itinerant cotton picker. It was in 1929 that he started playing for parties on the weekends. On one of these trips in the town of Vernon he ran into Ramblin’ Thomas at a party where the two were goaded into a guitar contest which Shaw claims to have won. “The people went wild, I guess, ’cause I was a kid …what they really went wild over, me bein’ able to play some of Blind Lemon Jefferson”s stuff …” Most Texas bluesman, he said, nvere played Jeffereson’s songs. While living in Fort Worth in 1929 he played again with Thomas and met Willie Lane (who he knew only as Little Brother) at a house party.
Around 1930 Shaw met J.T. “Funny Papa” Smith. Shaw and Smith went on to play weekend house parties, each devising second guitar parts behind the others’ vocal and leads. Smith promised to include Shaw in on of his recording sessions in 1931 but Smith was hauled off to face a murder charge and never returned to the area. Smith was a minstrel who wandered about the panhandle region, performing at fairs, fish fries, dances and other community events (often in the company of figures including Tom Shaw, Texas Alexander and Bernice Edwards.Between 1930 and 1931 he had recorded some twenty issued sides. Evidently Smith’s commercial billing as “Funny Paper Smith” was a gaffe on the part of record company officials. When Texas bluesman Thomas Shaw met him in Wickoffs, Oklahoma, the name “Funny Papa Smith” was plainly stitched on his stovepipe hat and the work-overalls he customarily wore as the overseer of a local plantation. He was better known simply as Howling Wolf”, the title of his debut recording. “That’s the one that made him famous,” Shaw said of the song.
Shaw’s belated debut was recorded in 1969 or 70 and issued in 1972 on the Blue Goose label, titled Blind Lemon’s Buddy. Subsequent albums included Born In Texas issued in 1972 on Advent then later on Testament, and Do Lord Remember Me released in 1973 on the Blues Beacon label (recorded in a Holland studio with one cut recorded live at Bajes Blues Club in Amsterdam). Tow other cuts appeared on the compilation San Diego Blues Jam issued in 1974 on Advent then later on Testament and four cuts that appear on the Ultimate Blues Collection Volume 3 on Ziggy Christmann’s Ornament label. As Shaw noted of his recording career, it should have happened forty years earlier: “I was a guitar player then, brother …didn’t nobody run into me-wanna mess with me. No sir …But I just can’t play now.” He remains proudest of his ability to recreate the sound of Blind Lemon, saying of the style “ I went through hell and high water to get it.” (by sundayblues.org)
And this is his rare album for the German Blues Beacon, Label in 1973 … Another fine example of the power of the blues !
Recorded December 17, 1972 at B.B.C. Studios, Baambrugge, The Netherlands
Thomas Shaw (guitar, vocals)
01. Let’s Rock (Traditional) 3.45
02. Folks You Don’t Know What The Lord Has Done To Me (Shaw) 2.25
03. Make Me A Pallet On The Floor (Traditional) 2.31
04. Dedicated To My Friends (Traditional) 4.11
05. Roll Me, Baby (Traditional) 3-07
06. Do Lord Remember Me (Traditional) 2.25
07. I’m A Lonely Woman (Traditional) 2.20
08. She’s My Gal (Traditional) 3.50
09. I Believe My Time (Traditional) 3.41
10. Tom’s Special Blues (Shaw) 3.28
11. See That My Grave Is Kept Clean (Traditional) 3.26
12. Two White Horses In A Line (Traditional) 2.15
13. Texas Blues/E. J. Blues (Traditional) 2.13