Henry “Mule” Townsend (October 27, 1909 – September 24, 2006) was an American blues singer, guitarist and pianist.
Townsend was born Henry Jesse James Townsend, in Shelby, Mississippi, and grew up in Cairo, Illinois. He left home at the age of nine because of an abusive father and hoboed his way to St. Louis, Missouri. He learned guitar while in his early teens from a locally renowned blues guitarist known as Dudlow Joe.
By the late 1920s he had begun touring and recording with the pianist Walter Davis and had acquired the nickname Mule, because he was sturdy in both physique and character. In St. Louis, he worked with some of the early blues pioneers, including J. D. Short.
Townsend was one of the only artists known to have recorded in nine consecutive decades. He first recorded in 1929 and remained active up to 2006. By the mid-1990s, Townsend and his one-time collaborator Yank Rachell were the only active blues artists whose careers had started in the 1920s. He recorded on several different labels, including Columbia Records, Bluesville Records, and Folkways Records.
Articulate and self-aware, with an excellent memory, Townsend gave many invaluable interviews to blues enthusiasts and scholars. Paul Oliver recorded him in 1960 and quoted him extensively in his 1967 work Conversations with the Blues. Thirty years later, Bill Greensmith edited thirty hours of taped interviews with Henry to produce a full autobiography, giving a vivid history of the blues scene in St Louis and East St Louis in its prime.
In 1979, Bob West recorded Townsend in St. Louis. That recording was released on CD in 2002 on Arcola Records as “Henry Townsend the Real St. Louis Blues.”
In 1985 he received the National Heritage Fellowship in recognition of his status as a “master artist”. In 1995 he was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
Townsend died on September 24, 2006, at the age of 96, at St. Mary’s Ozaukee Hospital, in Mequon, Wisconsin, just hours after having been the first person to be presented with a “key” in Grafton’s Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame.
On February 10, 2008, Townsend was posthumously awarded a Grammy, his first, at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards. The award, in the category Best Traditional Blues Album, was given for his performances on Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live In Dallas, released by the Blue Shoe Project. Townsend’s son, Alonzo Townsend, accepted the award on his behalf.
On December 4, 2009, a marker commemorating Townsend was added to the Mississippi Blues Trail (by wikipedia)
The Mississippi Blues Trail was created by the Mississippi Blues Commission in 2006 to place interpretive markers at the most notable historical sites related to the birth, growth, and influence of the blues throughout (and in some cases beyond) the state of Mississippi. Within the state the trail extends from the Gulf Coast north along several highways to (among other points) Natchez, Vicksburg, Jackson, Leland, Greenwood, Clarksdale, Tunica, Grenada, Oxford, Columbus, and Meridian. The largest concentration of markers is in the Mississippi Delta but other regions of the state are also represented. Several out-of-state markers have also been erected where blues with Mississippi roots has had significance. (by wikipedia)
And here is one of these hard to find albums by Henry Townsend:
Several related factors come together here to make this a particularly wonderful blues album, something in the nature of a sleeper that may become a listener’s favorite choice when it comes time for some blues. For one thing, there’s the surprise factor in that this is not one of the “star” names in blues, due to the fact that Henry Townsend mostly recorded as a sideman, or under a bogus name such as St. Louis Jimmy. His is a top-quality blues voice and he is a sharp and accurate blues picker on both the electric and acoustic model, in the Lightnin’ Hopkins and Skip James mode but with a harder edge. And he even throws in some decent blues piano, although the out-of-tune model he uses moves the whole thing into the rarified realm of microtonal blues.
Over-familiarity can sometimes take the luster off a performance by a big-name artist, but that is guaranteed not to happen with Townsend because very few blues fans can say they have heard too much of him. Material was recorded over a five-year period, and the wandering and ever-changing sound quality also helps the album, as do the different instrumental combinations. The tandem guitar picking really sounds good, with that wooden back-porch quality that escaped most of the primitive recording machines in the old days, and couldn’t possibly be recreated in a modern studio. One track worthy of special mention — they are all really good — is the vocal duet performance with Vernell Townsend, a song entitled “Why Do We Love Each Other?” This has a sound that really sticks with you. (by Eugene Chadbourne)
And here I can offer the CD-version from 199 with two bonus tracks
Henry Townsend (vocals, guitar, piano on 04. + 10.)
Henry Brown (piano on 08.)
Andrew Cauthen (harmonica on 02.)
Mike Stewart (guitar on 03. – 06., 09. – 13. )
Vernell Townsend (vocals on 07.)
01. Cairo Blues (*) 3.27
02. Tired Of Being Mistreated (*) 2.57
03. Biddle Street Blues 2.52
04. She Walked Away 3.32
05. Every Day Of My Life 3.22
06. Sloppy Drunk Again 3.47
07. Why Do We Love Each Other? 3.23
08. Deep Morgan Stomp 3.07
09. Buzz,Buzz,Buzz,… 2.45
10. Heart Trouble 3.40
11. Doing Better In Life 3.15
12. Don’t You Remember Me 4.04
13. Now Or Never 5.06
All ongs ritten by Henry Towshend
(*) CD bonus tracks)
Recorded St. Louis, Mo., September 1969 (tracks 1 to 5), and April 1974 (tracks 8, 10, 13).
Recorded at Potomac, Md., August 1970 (tracks 3, 6), August 1971(tracks 9, 11, 12).
Recorded at Silver Spring, Md., August 1971 (tracks 3, 7).
While Henry Townsend did not scorn his old recordings, he had no taste for spending his later years simply recreating them.
Blues, for him, was a living medium, and he continued to express himself in it, most remarkably in his songwriting.
(Tony Russell, The Guardian)