Blues Mandolin With Charles "Papa" McCoy

Charles Papa McCoy

Periodically, I write reviews of artists that I think my students will enjoy. Today I am writing about Charles McCoy, aka Papa.

Charlie "Papa" McCoy (1909 - 1950) is considered as one of the three most important mandolin players in blues (the other two being Yank Rachell and Johnny Young ).

He recorded with Tommy Johnson, Ishman Bracey, Mississippi Sheiks , Joe McCoy(his brother), Memphis Minnie, Tampa Red, Georgia Tom. All his recordings are listed here.

Papa first recorded in Memphis in 1928, in an all-star session that saw him backing Rosie Mae Moore, Tommy Johnson and Ishman Bracey over a two-day period. Later that year, he played on the first recording of "Corrine Corrina" [sic] with Bo Chatmon and Walter Vincson, friends from his Jackson, Mississippi area home.

By 1930 he was recording regularly with Chatmon and Vincson, switching between mandolin and guitar. Charlie also recorded several duets with his brother Joe, and the two played together in Jed Davenport's Beale Street Jug Band. Always versatile, he even made a few solo recordings playing a delta-style slide guitar.

McCoy recorded several sides with Bo Carter as the 'Mississippi Mud Steppers'. Among the tracks recorded with Carter were two variations of Cow Cow Davenport's "Cow Cow Blues" . The first, an instrumental, was released as "The Jackson Stomp". The second, with lyrics and vocals by McCoy, as "The Lonesome Train, That Took My Girl From Town". They also wrote and recorded "The Vicksburg Stomp" which was resurrected and recorded by Mike Compton, of O Brother, Where Art Thou? fame.

Jed Davenport's Beale Street Jug Band; Charlie is front right and Joe is back right

His nimble, sensitive guitar work enriched recordings from performers including Tommy Johnson and Ishman Bracey. He also recorded regularly in the late 1920s, often alongside Walter Vincson; he also sat in with the Mississippi Sheiks, Rubin Lacy, Son Spand and the many other Delta bluesmen who passed through the Jackson area in the years that followed. He also backed his then sister-in-law, Memphis Minnie in the mid 1930s.

In Chicago, Charlie, Joe, and in the Harlem Hamfats he blended an attacking mandolin style with their swing rhythms and jazz horns. He also contributed mandolin to recordings by Sonny Boy Williamson, Peetie Wheatstraw, Big Bill Broonzy and Will Weldon. And he again teamed up with his brother in Big Joe's Washboard Band and Big Joe and His Rhythm in the early 1940's.

In the late 1940's, Charlie was institutionalized with neurosyphilis. He died in July 1950, just six months after his older brother, and followed him to the same section of Restvale Cemetery.

McCoy also joined and performed with his brother (Kansas Joe McCoy) for many years, and they released records under the title of "The McCoy Brothers".

He eventually migrated to Chicago where he organized two bands, "Papa Charlie's Boys" and with his older brother Kansas Joe McCoy, the Harlem Hamfats, that performed and recorded during the second half of the 1930s. However, service with the United States Army during World War II cut short McCoy’s career.

In poor health, McCoy never returned to music after the war, and he died in Chicago, Illinois in 1950 from paralytic brain disease, only a few months after his brother had died. They are both buried in the Restvale Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.

McCoy's composition, "Too Long" was recorded several times by both black and white artists.

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