Document's chronologically presented history of singing pianist James "Stump" Johnson opens with four titles recorded in January 1929, beginning with "The Duck's Yas-Yas-Yas," a naughty bit of hokum usually associated with Tampa Red. Stump verbally designates his boogie-woogie "Bound to Be a Monkey" as "good ragtime". This is an example of the word "ragtime" being used to describe lively entertainment rather than the highly refined and intricately structured kind of music associated with Scott Joplin. The other two titles from this session are slow ruminative blues, the stylistic common ground that many Southern and midwestern pianists of this period almost invariably returned to between bursts of boisterous barrelhouse and boogie. Eight months later, Johnson cut a record under the name of "Shorty George" in the company of master guitarist Tampa Red. "Jones Law Blues" refers to the scarcity of gin during prohibition, and compares well with an identically titled recording made in October of 1929 by Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra, with young pianist Count Basie credited as co-composer with Moten. Stump Johnson's next recording date involved cornetist Baby Jay James, whose expressive obbligato adds an intriguing dimension to the pianist's straightforward blues formula. For his Okeh session of November 1929, Johnson was billed as "Snitcher Roberts", and he seems to have been unable to resist the urge to haul out "The Duck's Yas-Yas-Yas." The guitarist, who doubles on violin, has been identified as Harry Johnson, and the woman who speaks on "Low Moanin' Blues" was Stump's sister-in-law, Edith North Johnson. She also pipes up on "You Buzzard You," a transparent cover of Sam Theard's "You Rascal You" recorded in February 1930. Stump's celebrated session with pianist Roosevelt Sykes took place in Dallas, TX on February 10, 1932. "Sail on Black Sue" and "Barrel of Whiskey Blues" are fine examples of the kind of blues that Sykes already specialized in and would continue to dish out for many years to come.
Stump's one Bluebird date took place in August 1932 with the vocal on "Steady Grindin'" by astringent-toned Dorothea Trowbridge. This was essentially "Keep A-Knockin But You Can't Come In" taken to a crueler level, as the woman essentially calls out to the man on the other side of the door that he cannot enter because she is engaged in rigorous sexual activity with someone else! While that inference was present in the original, Trowbridge's approach is downright sadistic. Johnson's poignant "Don't Give My Lard Away" seems to be about poverty (one of his favorite topics), but might also have been intended as a sort of answer song to Trowbridge's taunting. It certainly comes across that way if you think about it. The guitarist for this date was either Joe C. Stone or J.D. Short, and the pianist on "Steady Grindin'" was Aaron "Pinetop" Sparks. "Money Johnson"'s flipside, which did not involve Stump and is not included here, was by the Sparks Brothers. This collection ends with four tracks recorded in November 1964, when Stump was spending most of his time running the De Luxe Restaurant in St. Louis with Edith Johnson. It's even possible that these piano solos (and a remake of "Yas-Yas-Yas" with an off-mike vocal) were taped at the restaurant, given the fact that the first take of "Snitcher's Blues" (track 22) appears to include the sounds of a pinball machine, but this is pure conjecture. What's certain is that Johnson's late recordings (which include a session for Euphonic and a U.K. film soundtrack) sound really good and need to be compiled and reissued. Until that happens, this Document retrospective is all we have to go on.