‘Mrs Cullum Rediscovered’ from 1967 Blues Unlimited

Posted by mcorcoran on December 26, 2017

by Mike Leadbitter
At the corner of Alabama and Burkett in Houston is a neat building with a sign in the yard announcing that S.J. Cullum — Dentist, resides within. Larry [Skoog – BH] and I arrived at this address feeling very pleased with ourselves for it had taken days of questions to find it. At last we had found Mrs. Anne Cullen — a legend among blues collectors. We walked into the office and then out back where we found Mrs. Cullum. She invited us inside the house and answered our questions.

This fascinating woman’s real name is Lola Anne Cullum, though she was known to the industry as Lola Cullen. Born in the country at Waimer, Texas, she is now late in years and recovering from a serious operation which has slowed her down. She has always been interested in blues and had a good ear for music. This interest lead her to try her hand at booking and managing artists when she settled in Houston.

While visiting San Antonio, she went to a night club with some friends and saw Amos Milburn. She was very impressed by his performance and found out that he too lived in Houston. She asked him to come round when he was home next and when he arrived she made some crude paper-backed tapes of his songs and sent them to Aladdin Records. In September 1946 she and Amos went to the Coast and he cut the first of many enormously popular records. Impressed by Lola s scouting talents., Aladdin asked her to find more Texas talent and by asking around, she heard that people sang on the street around Dowling. She went down there and found Lightnin Hopkins and Texas Alexander, who in turn introduced her to Thunder Smith and Luther Stoneham. These people all came round to her home and practised while she taped their performances, and gave them money and new clothes.

Frightened by Texas, who she learned had just come out of the penitentiary, she went back to the Coast in November with Thunder and Lightnin only to see Aladdin. It was in the studio that the duo got their nicknames “Wilson made thunder on the piano — Sam was Lightnin’ on guitar”. Hopkins’ records were also popular and Lola was in business However, she didn’t bother about Sam too much and instead managed Amos, who by 1948 was riding high. Both he and Lola made a lot of money and she booked him into nearly all the big night-spots in the country, including New York’s ‘Apollo’ and the ‘Million Club’ in Los Angles. When Amos’ contract with her came up for renewal she found out that he had got too big. The people on the Coast squeezed her out and she was left with nothing.

Back in Houston she carried on with her booking agency, dealing with people like Lester Williams, Percy Henderson, Thunder Smith and Vivianne Greene, whom she described as a fine pianist. In 1951 the record bug got her and she formed her own company, calling it the Artist Record Co., or just A.R.C. Sessions were held at ACA and Gold Star with Johnny Brown, a blues guitarist and Mr. Honey — “Honey Edwards from Memphis” — who was passing through Houston at the time. A record by Mr. Honey [accomp by Thunder  – BH] was issued but she could not get any distribution or airplay and A.R.C. folded almost at once. Soon afterwards she found that Roby’s new ‘Buffalo Booking Agency’ was taking away her artists and business and eventually she abandoned music for ever.

All that remains today is a chest-of-drawers full of old acetates, broken records and tangled, brittle tapes. Among all this are some fine performances by people like Thunder and Luther Stoneham, as well as other titles by Mr. Honey. Perhaps one day someone with more time will sort through all this before it ends up in the trash can.

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