Who was/is Butch Cage ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
Butch Cage & Willie B. Thomas
In the rural communities of Slim Harpo's youth many local people played an instrument in their spare time and one of the best known players was the diminutive Willie B. Thomas, born in West Baton Rouge in 1912 on the same Bellmont Plantation as Harpo. Thomas suffered a twisted back when crushed by some furniture as his family moved across the river to Zachary, north of Baton Rouge. While he worked at odd jobs, he learned to play kazoo as a teenager and the guitar and banjo in his twenties, playing in the '30s and '40s at Saturday suppers and developing a repertoire of blues, spirituals, hillbilly and popular songs. Then he 'heard a voice calling' him to teach the gospel, and he spent many years working the streets as a singing preacher. By the '30s Thomas began to team up with a fiddle player, James Cage, known as 'Butch,' born in 1894 in Franklin County, Mississippi. He said he had mastered the fid- dle and the fife, both well-established instruments in the folk music of black Mississippians, by the time he was 17 years old. "All of my folks was some sort of musician," he remembered. He recalled playing church songs, field songs and popular songs at dances for both black and white gatherings.
In 1927 after the great flood that year Cage joined his brother in Zachary, to farm there instead. He played music at local parties and events while by day he worked odd jobs on the farms, the railroads and in Baton Rouge. He retired in 1960 from his day jobs, at a point when he and Willie Thomas had come to the attention of Harry Oster, who described Cage as "a mellow old man with an infectiously gay smile whose wickedly syncopated fiddle music is a rare survival of the now virtually extinct nineteenth century negro fiddle tradi- tion." Cage played the fiddle down on his chest, saw- ing sideways, while Thomas impressed Oster by throwing "every fibre of his meagre 4 foot ten inches into his singing and guitar frailing... Clad usually in a big black hat and a grimly ministerial black suit he, unlike most religious negroes, sees no harm in singing sinful songs, secular songs such as the blues."
Together, Cage and Thomas made some memorable music for Oster, and gained some limited fame in the folk music world through Oster's 1959 LP release, 'Country Negro Jam Session,' a disc that sought to capture the older forms of rural music in contrast to the recordings of EXCELLO and the other record labels aimed at the current R&B market and the jukebox trade. In their recording of Who Broke The Lock, Thomas explains how local people used to hide their whiskey in unusual places like the henhouse, but this was not a local song. It had been recorded as far back...
© Bear Family Records
Extract from: Various Artists - Blues Kings Of Baton Rouge (2-CD) - BCD17512