Henry “Ragtime Texas” Thomas- Bull Doze Blues
Today’s installment is actually a familiar tune to most (thanks to Canned Heat’s cover of it as “Going up the country”) but the remarkable thing about it apart from the fact that is a great song is the man behind it.
Henry Thomas was born in Big Sandy Texas sometime around 1874 to a family of former slaves and sharecroppers (cotton), ran away from home when he was 13 (he didn’t like farming) and spent the rest of his life as a travelling minstrel. He played his guitar, sang and played quills (home made pan pipes attached round the neck) which is the instrument that can be heard playing the famous melody on this track. These instruments were popular at the end of the 19th century and can be directly traced back to west Africa.
The remarkable thing is that at the time that this track was recorded in the late 1920’s, Henry was already in his 50’s and the track (his own composition) would have been typical of Afro-American music in the late 1800s early 20th century. It is an example of music that existed at least 20 years before any “blues” tracks were pressed onto shellac.
Perhaps it is testament to Canned Heat’s copy of the song that the tune is so recognisable, it seems a bit weird that a track recorded in the 1920’s should evoke images of Woodstock era hippies though.
Henry disappeared after making his last recordings in Chicago in the late 1920’s (probably resumed his travelling) although some report seeing him play on Texas street corners as late as the 1950s