J. T. Smith (musician)

Last updated
J. T. Smith
Birth nameJohn T. Smith
Also known asThe Howling Wolf
"Funny Paper" Smith
"Funny Papa" Smith
Howling Smith
Bornc. 1890
probably Texas, United States
Diedc. 1940
Genres Texas blues, blues
Occupation(s)Guitarist, singer, songwriter
InstrumentsGuitar, human voice
Years active1920s–1940
Labels Vocalion
Associated acts Bernice Edwards

John T. Smith (c. 1890 – c. 1940), variously known as the Howling Wolf, "Funny Paper" Smith, "Funny Papa" Smith, and Howling Smith, was an American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. [1] [2] He released around ten singles in his own name or variants thereof. He also recorded with Bernice Edwards, Black Boy Shine, Magnolia Harris, and Dessa Foster. His best-known song was "Howling Wolf Blues", of which several variants were recorded. Many of his original recordings were unreleased at the time. All are now available on compilation albums. Little is known about Smith, and some reported details of his life may be apocryphal.

Bernice Edwards was an American classic female blues singer, pianist and songwriter. She recorded a total of 21 tracks between 1926 and 1935. Unusually for a female blues performer at the time, Robinson composed some of her songs. Details of her life outside the recording studio are sketchy.

A compilation album comprises tracks, which may be previously released or unreleased, usually from several separate recordings by either one or several performers. If by one artist, then generally the tracks were not originally intended for release together as a single work, but may be collected together as a greatest hits album or box set. If from several performers, there may be a theme, topic, time period, or genre which links the tracks, or they may have been intended for release as a single work—such as a tribute album. When the tracks are by the same recording artist, the album may be referred to as a retrospective album or an anthology.


Smith's music has been compared to that of Blind Lemon Jefferson, [3] and his guitar playing was similar in style to that of other Texas guitarists around in his lifetime. [4] One factor that set him apart from his contemporaries was his lyrical compositions, which were highly original. On more than one occasion, his verses were so full that he had to split the song between both sides of the three-minute limitation imposed by the standard 78-rpm disc. [5]

Blind Lemon Jefferson American blues singer and guitarist

Lemon Henry "Blind Lemon" Jefferson was an American blues and gospel singer, songwriter, and musician. He was one of the most popular blues singers of the 1920s and has been called the "Father of the Texas Blues".

Life and career

Smith was probably born in Texas. Details of his early life are not known. His first professional role involved him working at the Lincoln Theater in New York City. [3] He married in the 1920s and spent most of the decade as an itinerant musician, travelling around Texas and Oklahoma, performing at parties, fish fries and juke joints, often in the company of Thomas Shaw, Alger "Texas" Alexander, and Little Hat Jones. [6] He also was seen in the Dallas, Texas, area in the 1920s and 1930s, but he never recorded there. [4] His first recordings were made in Chicago on September 18 and 19, 1930. "Howling Wolf Blues" (parts one and two) was issued by Vocalion (Vocalion 1558) as his first single. [2] Several sources have noted that his guitar was often out of tune, even on some of his recordings, and Shaw commented that Smith was not an accomplished guitarist. [3] [4] [5] Another oddity was that although Smith called himself "Funny Papa", his record label Vocalion managed to mistake this for "Funny Paper" Smith, and that is how he was billed on his earliest releases. [4] He recorded almost twenty songs for Vocalion in 1930 and 1931, including the aforementioned "Howling Wolf Blues", from which he acquired another pseudonym, "The Howling Wolf". [3]

Texas State of the United States of America

Texas is the second largest state in the United States by both area and population. Geographically located in the South Central region of the country, Texas shares borders with the U.S. states of Louisiana to the east, Arkansas to the northeast, Oklahoma to the north, New Mexico to the west, and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas to the southwest, while the Gulf of Mexico is to the southeast.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Oklahoma State of the United States of America

Oklahoma is a state in the South Central region of the United States, bordered by Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, Texas on the south, New Mexico on the west, and Colorado on the northwest. It is the 20th-most extensive and the 28th-most populous of the fifty United States. The state's name is derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning "red people". It is also known informally by its nickname, "The Sooner State", in reference to the non-Native settlers who staked their claims on land before the official opening date of lands in the western Oklahoma Territory or before the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889, which dramatically increased European-American settlement in the eastern Indian Territory. Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory were merged into the State of Oklahoma when it became the 46th state to enter the union on November 16, 1907. Its residents are known as Oklahomans, and its capital and largest city is Oklahoma City.

Smith reportedly wore a stovepipe hat with "Funny Papa Smith" stitched upon it. [3] Between September 1930 and April 1935, he recorded forty-one songs, but only half that number were released at that time. Around this time he performed on weekends with Thomas Shaw.

Top hat tall-crowned hat usually made of beaver pelt

A top hat, beaver hat, high hat, silk hat, cylinder hat, chimney pot hat or stove pipe hat, sometimes also known by the nickname "topper", is a tall, flat-crowned, broad-brimmed hat, worn by men from the latter part of the 18th to the middle of the 20th century. By the end of World War II, it had become a rarity in ordinary dress, though it continued to be worn in specific instances, such as state funerals, also by those occupying prominent positions in the Bank of England, by certain City stock exchange officials and occasionally when passing between the Law Courts and Lincoln's Inn, London by judges of the Chancery Division and Queen's Counsel.

In 1931, Smith was arrested after being involved in a fight in a gambling establishment [6] and allegedly killing a man in an argument over a woman. [4] He was jailed on a charge of murder [7] and spent a few years in a Texas penitentiary. In 1935, he recorded some songs for the Vocalion label in Fort Worth, Texas, but they were not released. [3] Along the way he recorded with Bernice Edwards, Black Boy Shine, Magnolia Harris, and Dessa Foster. [2] More than one source noted that Magnolia Harris was probably a pseudonym for the contractually obliged Victoria Spivey. [2] [5] In 1939, he toured with Alger "Texas" Alexander. Smith's subsequent whereabouts are unknown. It has been reported that he died in 1940, [3] but the blues historians Bob Eagle and Eric S. LeBlanc reckoned from their research that it was "after 1947". [1]

Fort Worth, Texas City in Texas, United States

Fort Worth is a city in the U.S. state of Texas. It is the 15th-largest city in the United States and fifth-largest city in Texas. It is the county seat of Tarrant County, covering nearly 350 square miles (910 km2) into four other counties: Denton, Johnson, Parker, and Wise. According to the 2017 census estimates, Fort Worth's population is 874,168. Fort Worth is the second-largest city in the Dallas–Fort Worth–Arlington metropolitan area, which is the 4th most populous metropolitan area in the United States.

Victoria Regina Spivey, sometimes known as Queen Victoria, was an American blues singer and songwriter. During a recording career that spanned 40 years, from 1926 to the mid-1960s, she worked with Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Clarence Williams, Luis Russell, Lonnie Johnson, and Bob Dylan. She also performed in vaudeville and clubs, sometimes with her sister Addie "Sweet Peas" Spivey (1910–1943), also known as the Za Zu Girl. Among her compositions are "Black Snake Blues" (1926), "Dope Head Blues" (1927), and "Organ Grinder Blues" (1928). In 1962 she co-founded Spivey Records.

Related Research Articles

Howlin Wolf American blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player

Chester Arthur Burnett, known as Howlin' Wolf, was a Chicago blues singer, guitarist, and harmonica player, originally from Mississippi. With a booming voice and imposing physical presence, he is one of the best-known Chicago blues artists. The musician and critic Cub Koda noted, "no one could match Howlin' Wolf for the singular ability to rock the house down to the foundation while simultaneously scaring its patrons out of its wits." Producer Sam Phillips recalled, "When I heard Howlin' Wolf, I said, 'This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.'" Several of his songs, including "Smokestack Lightnin'", "Killing Floor" and "Spoonful", have become blues and blues rock standards. In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 54 on its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time".

Mississippi is best known as the home of the blues, which developed among the freed African Americans in the latter half of the 19th century. The Delta blues is the style most closely associated with the state, and includes performers like Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson, Ishmon Bracey, Bo Carter, Sam Chatmon, Mississippi John Hurt, Furry Lewis, Son House, Skip James, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Pinetop Perkins, and B.B. King.

David "Honeyboy" Edwards American blues guitarist and singer

David "Honeyboy" Edwards was a Delta blues guitarist and singer from Mississippi.

Blind Willie Johnson American blues and gospel singer and guitarist

Blind Willie Johnson was an American gospel blues singer and guitarist and evangelist. His landmark recordings completed between 1927 and 1930—thirty songs in total—display a combination of powerful "chest voice" singing, slide guitar skills, and originality that has influenced later generations of musicians. Even though Johnson's records sold well, as a street performer and preacher he had little wealth in his lifetime. His life was poorly documented, but over time music historians such as Samuel Charters have uncovered more about Johnson and his five recording sessions.

Papa Was a Rollin Stone single

"Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" is a song performed by Motown recording act The Undisputed Truth. It was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong in 1971, and released as a single in May 1972. It peaked at number 63 on the Pop Charts and number 24 on the R&B Charts. The song was included on The Undisputed Truth's album Law of the Land (1973).

Pinetop Perkins American blues pianist

Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins was an American blues pianist. He played with some of the most influential blues and rock-and-roll performers of his time and received numerous honors, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the Blues Hall of Fame.

Alger "Texas" Alexander was an American blues singer from Jewett, Texas. Some sources claim that he was the cousin of Lightnin' Hopkins, but no direct kinship has been established. It has also been asserted that he was the uncle of the Texas country blues guitarist Frankie Lee Sims.

Robert Petway African-American blues singer and guitarist

Robert Petway was an African-American blues singer and guitarist. He recorded only 16 songs, but it has been said that he was an influence on many notable blues and rock musicians, including John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Jimi Hendrix. There is only one known picture of Petway, a publicity photo from 1941.

Hellhound on My Trail song by Robert Johnson

"Hellhound on My Trail" is a blues song recorded by Mississippi Delta bluesman Robert Johnson in 1937. It was inspired by earlier blues songs and blues historian Ted Gioia describes it as one of Johnson's "best known and most admired performances—many would say it is his greatest".

George "Little Hat" Jones was an American Texas blues musician.

Floyd Jones was an American blues singer, guitarist and songwriter. He was one of the first of the new generation of electric blues artists to record in Chicago after World War II, and a number of his recordings are regarded as classics of the Chicago blues idiom. His song "On the Road Again" was a top 10 hit for Canned Heat in 1968. Notably for a blues artist of his era, several of his songs have economic or social themes, such as "Stockyard Blues", "Hard Times" and "Schooldays".

Joe Willie Wilkins was an American Memphis blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. He influenced his contemporaries Houston Stackhouse, Robert Nighthawk, David Honeyboy Edwards, and Jimmy Rogers, but he had a greater impact on up-and-coming guitarists, including Little Milton, B.B. King, and Albert King. Wilkins's songs include "Hard Headed Woman" and "It's Too Bad."

J.D. Short was an American Delta blues singer, guitarist and harmonicist with a distinctive vibrato-laden singing voice. Early in his career, he recorded under a number of pseudonyms, including Jelly Jaw Short. His noteworthy works include "Lonesome Swamp Rattlesnake" and "You're Tempting Me".

Little Buddy Doyle was an American Memphis blues and country blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. He was a working associate of the harmonica players Big Walter Horton and Hammie Nixon, the guitarist David "Honeyboy" Edwards, and the pianist Sunnyland Slim.

Oscar "Buddy" Woods was an American Texas blues guitarist, singer and songwriter.

John T. Smith was an American Texas blues musician, who had a short lived recording session with Vocalion Records. Little is known about his life, although he was a busking street musician in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. He was believed to have been born sometime between 1880 and 1890. Smith played at parties, juke joints, and fish fries. In a two-year period, from 1930 to 1931 he made close to twenty recordings. Among the songs he recorded was his trademark song, "Howlin Wolf Blues". On occasion the recording company would call him "The Howlin Wolf", and he may have had a musical influence on the young Chester Burnett who in the late 1940s and 1950s, was billed as Howlin' Wolf. Smith's style of playing was reminiscent to Blind Lemon Jefferson.


  1. 1 2 Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues: A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger. p. 538. ISBN   978-0313344237.
  2. 1 2 3 4 ""Funny Papa" Smith Illustrated Discography". Wirz.de. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Smith, John T. (Funny Papa)]". The Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). Tshaonline.org. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Govenar, Alan B.; Brakefield, Jay F. (1998). Deep Ellum and Central Track: Where the Black and White Worlds of Dallas Converged. Books.google.co.uk. p. 110. ISBN   978-1574410518 . Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  5. 1 2 3 "J. T. 'Funny Paper' Smith (The Howling Wolf), Complete Issued Titles (1930–1931)". Document-records.com. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  6. 1 2 "J. T. Funny Papa Smith". Thebluestrail.com. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  7. Edwards, David "Honeyboy" (1997). The World Don't Owe Me Nothing: The Life and Times of Delta Bluesman Honeyboy Edwards. Books.google.co.uk. p. 207. ISBN   1-55652-368-8 . Retrieved 2016-11-30.

Other sources

International Standard Book Number Unique numeric book identifier

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numeric commercial book identifier which is intended to be unique. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency.