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St. Louis Music: Essential Recordings

Bryan Cather President, Friends of Scott Joplin

As for essential recordings...if I could have only ONE ragtime CD, ever, it would be Joshua Rifkin’s Scott Joplin Piano Rags.

A Century of Ragtime
traces, through recordings by various artists and ensembles, ragtime’s development over the span of 100 years and is both a great introduction to the genre, and a superb survey of both the music and the various performers out there today.

Joshua Rifkin’s recordings of Joplin made in the early 1970s, were the first to treat Joplin’s music as the composer intended: as classical music.  These insightful and gorgeous renderings of Joplin’s works influenced a generation of pianists.

I’d also look at the YouTube offerings of some of the younger generation of ragtime performers like Adam Swanson (see below), Tom Brier, Max Keenlyside, Martin Spitznagle, and Bryan Wright.


Their performances are astounding, and are helping to redefine the genre for an entirely new generation.

Kevin Belford, author of Devil at the Confluence: The Pre-war Blues Music of St. Louis, Missouri.

Just about all of the prewar 78-rpm records have been released on CD by Document Records, but St. Louis has been on the cutting edge of every American music style, and the St. Louis blues are not fossilized in the past. The artists of the Confluence City have always looked forward, and built upon the best of the previous generations.

Tommy Halloran
is probably performing every night of the week. His CD, Moan & Shout, is a few years old, but is a beautiful example of that St Louis vintage feel that defies simple categorization.

During every Sunday brunch at Rue Lafayette, you can hear the authentic hot jazz, swing, rhythm and blues from retro stylist, Miss Jubilee. No CDs available, but there are a few recordings to be heard at

One of the finest female voices in the city: Kari Liston in the Bottoms Up Blues Gang

“Left Me Wanting More.”


Another classic St Louis female vocalist is Uvee Hayes.

The Strings Attached project is a St. Louis nonprofit that introduces underserved youth ages 5 through 17 to guitar through study of American roots music, especially historic St Louis music.

The definition of a life of blues: Fred Friction’s St Louis classic, Cold Ice Water:


His latest CD, Jesus Drank Wine, is available on CDBaby.

Tom Sudholt, former DJ, Classic99

Robert McFerrin Jr. (whom Sudholdt says was woefully underrecorded): Porgy & Bess (1959 Soundtrack). (Back Biter)

Helen Traubel: Helen Traubel and Lauritz Melchior Sing Wagner. (Sony)

Grace Bumbry: Tannhauser (1962 Bayreuth Festival). (Philips)


Malcolm Frager: Malcolm Frager Plays Chopin. (Telarc)

Christine Brewer: Beethoven’s Fidelio. (LSO Live)

Sudholt wanted to include Scott Joplin in his classical picks— “I think you could make a strong case for it”—but SLM, more prosaically, had put him in ragtime, even though Bryan Cather, our ragtime specialist, wanted to put Joplin in classical, and rock blogger Eliot Raucher wanted to put him in rock! The opera Joplin wrote in St. Louis in 1903, A Guest of Honor, is lost to the world. “Not a shred of it remains,” Sudholt says sadly. Watch our arts blog, Look/Listen in April for more thoughts from Sudholt on A Guest of Honor.

Eliot Rauscher, drummer founder of the arts and entertainment blog The Phosphene, I’m OK. I’m All Write, and STL Hipster Dad

1. Chuck Berry
Key Track: “Johnny B. Goode”


Any discussion of rock and roll has to include Chuck Berry. He didn’t invent it but he defined it. So anyone playing rock and roll electric guitar today, rock and roll electric guitar, you can’t not tip your hat to Chuck Berry plain and simple. “Johnny B Goode” is a good bridge between blues and rock because the structure of the chords is all, it’s a blues structure but it’s lost the syncopation that blues normally has and it moves a lot faster. And I’m a big nerd when it comes to Back to the Future.

2. The Urge
Key Track: “Jump Right In”


I picked them this is probably more because of the generation that I’m in I feel like they’re kind of St. Louis’ band for Generation X. There’s this moment when I went to school in Minnesota for my freshman year of college I was walking down the hall to go to dinner or something and I heard somebody listening to The Urge. So I knocked on the door and poked my head in. I said, “Listening to The Urge?” And they were like, “Yeah, yeah, last time they came up to Minneapolis I caught their show and really liked them.” I’m like, “Yeah, they’re from St. Louis. I’ve seen them.” He was like, “Oh my God! Do you know them?!” I got that a lot. People assume that St. Louis is a lot smaller than it really is so I’m always asked do you know Nelly? Do you know The Urge?

3. Ike and Tina Turner
Key track: “Proud Mary”


I think that especially for Tina, whose career I think was bigger, but they sort of owe their careers to each other. If he hadn’t given her a chance to sing then neither of them would be as big as they became and I love their version of Proud Mary. That’s kind of the St. Louis Anthem. I feel like it’s not a St. Louis wedding unless they’re playing mostaccioli and the band plays that song.

4. Scott Joplin
Key track: “The Entertainer”


Not a rock and roll artist BUT important to rock and roll. Ragtime is a predecessor to hot jazz, be-bop and those were essential stepping-stones to rock and roll. It’s really the first pop music that you could dance to that the square community was like, “Whoa, what’s going on? What is this?” Which is what rock was 50 years later. So I hemmed and hawed about that one like, “You can’t really say that, can you?” But I was in the Loop the other day and we were heading back to the parking lot walking in front of Blueberry Hill and they have a Chuck Berry star right outside of Blueberry Hill and then only two or three stars later you have Scott Joplin and I really started thinking about the connection between the two of them and I started thinking how if you don’t have Scott Joplin, you don’t get Chuck Berry. Scott Joplin put African-American music on the American cultural map.

5. Head East
“Never Been any Reason”


Great classic rock sound, great guitar sound and they’ve got some of the best harmony lines from the 70s. If you listen to “Never Been Any Reason” especially the chorus has got this really tight harmony has got this chorus with three or four voices going and you can hear each distinctive line. It’s hard to pick out which is the melody line really because they all make sense as melody but they all make sense as harmony too.

Tom “Papa” Ray, co-owner of Vintage Vinyl/ The Soul Selector on KDHX

1. Chuck Berry
Key track: Any of them.

After Chuck Berry, there was everything else.

If Chuck was from any other city the level of public recognition and community pride would be much greater. Everyone knows who Chuck Berry is but I still think he receives very little official recognition. Now there is a statue, thank you Joe Edwards but tell me the name of one politician in this town that ever praised Chuck Berry. You can’t.

It’s like when Ike Turner played the [Big Muddy] Blues Festival [in 2007] here and the current mayor refused to give him the key to the city, which they gave to every mediocrity that ever headlined that mediocre festival down on the water front. As I said on KMOX, Charles Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer who admired Hitler, he was anti-Semitic, he was a bigamist and had an outside family in Germany his family here didn’t even know about. But I don’t want his name taken off anything.

But here’s the question: Can you think of any possible reason that the playing field for the likes of Ike Turner and Chuck Berry are not the same level?

2. Ike Tuner

Key track: Rocket 88


Ike had recorded what people thought was the first real rock and roll record [“Rocket 88”] before Chuck ever walked into a studio.

The day that Ike gets his star on the Walk of Fame, I went to the ceremony before Ike gets his. Mary Engelbreit is going to get one, too. Sitting behind me are these earnest, young, clean-scrubbed, suburban white women ready to see Mary Engelbriet get hers. When they call out Ike’s name I instinctively turn around and I see their lips pulled back and their mouths are tight and they’re shaking their heads and they’re applauding like they really don’t want to.

I really wanted to say to them, “You women worship at the feet of a kitsch-meister. And there’s no where that it’s been written that a truly great artist like Ike Turner is necessarily a nice person and therefore none of you should ever look at a painting by Picasso. None of you should appreciate any number of great artistic works by people who weren’t always the most admirable person in their private lives.”

But if you talk to everybody that ever worked with Ike Turner in St. Louis—including the women—go ask Robbie Montgomery, she’ll tell you, “He was a task master, he wanted it his way but he always treated me respectfully.”

3. Billy Peek

Key Track: Any song he plays.


[Editor’s note: Considered more of a blues guitarist, Billy Peek has played with Chuck Berry and Rod Stewart.]

4. Michael O’Hara

Nobody ever remembers him. He’s from the ’70s. He had a band called The Sheiks. He was a black vocalist piano player songwriter who was covering the same territory that Prince would be a decade later. [The Sheiks] never recorded any albums. You had to see them live. He was brilliant. Last I heard he was doing music in Branson.

5. [No one]

There aren’t necessarily five people in my book! There are a bunch of very good ones. As far as transcendent players like Chuck or Ike, no.

Dennis Owsley, Host of KWMU’s Jazz Unlimited

1.  Duke Ellington: The Blanton-Webster Band (RCA Victor) (Features bassist Jimmy Blanton.)


2.  Miles Davis: The Complete Birth of the Cool (Capitol)

3.  Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (Columbia)


4.  Miles Davis: Bitches’ Brew (Columbia)

5.  Clark Terry: Memories of Duke (Pablo)


6.  World Saxophone Quartet: Revue (Black Saint)

7.  Grant Green: Idle Moments (Blue Note)

8.  Ralph Sutton: Swings St. Louis (Gaslight)

9.  Kim Portnoy: Most This Amazing Day (Victoria Company)

10.  Paul DeMarinis: The Sun…The Stars (Paul DeMarinis Music)

All are still available.

Dello Thedford, Minister of Music, Shalom Church; Dean of Arts, Central Visual and Performing Arts High School

Say Amen Somebody, original soundtrack.

The O’Neal Twins: “Jesus Dropped the Charges,” on Saved by His Love. (Savoy Records)


Willa Mae Ford Smith: Mother Smith & Her Children. (Spirit Feel)

Martha Bass: I’m So Grateful. (Righteous)

Christopher Watkins, “Because of the Blood,” Comin’ Out From Under. (Crystal Rose)

Rev. Cleophus Robinson: “Pray for Me,” I Shall Know Him. (Peacock Gospel Classics)


When posting, please be respectful. Avoid profanity, offensive content, and/or sales pitches. reserves the right to remove or reprint any comments or to contact you if necessary.

Mar 31, 2012 10:47 am
 Posted by  rongtr

Papa Ray, you are right on the money- one major market film (What's Love Got to Do With It) and Ike Turner immediately loses his stature as a founding father of Rock- Ike has long deserved recognition,- thanks for mentioning Michael as well, I was playing the same circuit as the Sheiks at that time, and I always thought he was a great entertainer. One person that has been totally ignored as well in this article is Grant Green- without his guitar playing there would have been no Wes Montgomery or George Benson- just ask George!

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