DeFord Bailey was born in Tennessee in 1899 to a musical family and at a very young age took up the harmonica. Crippled by a childhood attack of polio and unable to work on his parents' farm, DeFord began to earn a living playing his harp on the streets of Nashville. Spotted by a talent scout at a harmonica contest in 1925 (DeFord came second to someone called J.T. Bland, playing a version of "Lost John") he was invited to play on a radio show called "Barn Dance" later to be known as "The Grand Ole Opry". Until the early forties Bailey opened the Saturday night radio show with "Pan-American Blues", a train imitation piece, but his departure from the show was in less than pleasant circumstances and he retired from music to become a shoe-shine boy. He was pursuaded to play the Opry again in the seventies, but never again recorded and died in July 1982.
Bailey was a very influential player, both through his records and his radio work, leaving an impression on such players as Sonny Terry (who recorded a version of Bailey's "Alcoholic Blues"), the teenage blues harp virtuoso Eddie Mapp and white country harp player Red Parham. Of Bailey's two recording sessions, eleven tracks have survived1. His tunes were derived from a variety of sources, both white and black and I have chosen to notate one of his most famous, "Davidson County Blues", played in second position, key of E on an A harp. This tune is based on pianist Cow Cow Davenport's "Cow Cow Blues" (it might be interesting to compare this with another harp version of "Cow Cow Blues" by Jed Davenport2). To make the piece easier to read, I have neatened up DeFord's playing a little and omitted the tongue-blocked chords under the melody. Use my notation to get the hang of the piece, but please try to hear the original to capture the nuances of his playing, such as the "fluttered" notes that start each verse.
1. Reissued on Harp Blowers 1925-36 (Document DOCD-5164). Click here for more details from Amazon.com, or here for more details from Amazon.co.uk.
2. Reissued on Harmonica Blues 1929 - 1940 (Wolf Records WSE106). Click here for more details from Amazon.com or click here for more details from Amazon.co.uk.
Also available on Memphis Harp & Jug Blowers 1927 - 1939 (RST Records BDCD-6028). Click here for more details from Amazon.com, or click here for more details from Amazon.co.uk.
For more information about DeFord Bailey, I highly recommend David's Morton's book "DeFord Bailey: A Black Star in Early Country Music". Click here for more details from Amazon.com, or click here for more details from Amazon.co.uk.
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