In the late 1980's I was doing my radio show, Louisiana Folk Music and I played a cut by a blues pianist called David Alexander. He had been born in Shreveport in 1938, and raised in Marshal, Tx. Just after the broadcast I got a call from a local (Shreveport) piano man named Alex "Snooks" Jones. He wanted to know where I'd got that recording of David Alexander.
|Alex "Snooks" Jones|
I told him that I'd been gathering all the records I could for my program and I'd run across this one in the catalogue of Arhoolie Records. In those days the CD was in its infancy and we were still using vinyl at Red River Radio; most certainly for "folk" music.
"Well," said Snooks, "I knew David Alexander. I was wondering what had happened to him. He was a helluva fine piano man."
"When did you last hear him play?" I asked.
Snooks replied that he probably last saw Little David — he went by "Little" David Alexander — back in the 1930's. I explained that the liner notes on this record said this David Alexander was born in 1938 and went by a couple of other names, including Omar Shariff, and was currently living in San Francisco. Ah! Wrong David Alexander. But, according to Snooks, this new one reminded him of Little David. Could they be related?
Over the next year or two I ran across a couple more references to the 1930's David Alexander. Lead Belly, for instance, said he'd seen him in Shreveport in the 1920's and he was so impressed by him that he incorporated some of his left hand — his boogie woogie bass lines — into his own 12-string guitar playing. Also, Jessie "Baby Face" Thomas had seen Little David during the same time frame — the 1920's and '30's — before he, Jesse, lit out for California. Jesse also talked of using some of David's bass lines. This guy was becoming legendary.
In fact Little David was difficult to track down. For years there was nothing on the internet. I asked Snooks Jones what he knew of him; he said David had left town around 1938 because he got tired of being hassled by the police for "some things he did, and some things he didn't did." So he disappeared from the Shreveport scene, and this, my radio show, was the first time in decades he'd heard David Alexander. And it wasn't even the same David Alexander.
So, I didn't dig up anything new until last week. Looking on the Facebook page of the Blue Goose Blues Society, I was reminded of the book, "Shreveport Sounds in Black and White." In an article entitled "The Flying Crow Blues," there is a reference to a piano man named "Black Ivory King." And who should that be? None other than David Alexander.
I've now managed to locate, through You Tube and Document Records, eight sides by this man, Shreveport's premier blues piano player, recorded in the era between the two World Wars. Four sides were credited to Black Ivory King and four to David Alexander, who, it turns out, are one and the same person.
Which leads me back to the David Alexander I started with. After decades of toiling in California in relative obscurity, David, or Omar Shariff if you prefer, was summoned to Marshall, Texas, in 2010 to spearhead the movement which resulted in Marshall being proclaimed The Birthplace of Boogie Woogie. That's another story.
On January 8th, 2012, Alexander was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his house in Marshall, Texas. He was 73 years old. That's when I found out his full birth name was David Alexander Elam and he was the son of a piano player named Tom Elam.
Below: Flying Crow Blues by Little David Alexander.
The Raven: Boogie Woogie by David Alexander (the younger)
For more speculation, reference my article "Lead Belly, Baby Face and Little David Alexander," elsewhere on this blog.