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Blues History MailbagQ: Long live Henry Townsend! I'm sure he's jammin with Muddy and the other blues legends on the great beyond main stage. In some of the articles reviewing his career, there was mention of his pursuit to gain royalties for the great blues standard "Baby Please Don't Go". Do you have any further information on this?
Sincerely, Tom M.  

In many of the tributes to Henry Townsend made recently after his death, Henry was said to have over 350 recordings to his name. That certainly sounds right, but officially there are only 25 titles that result from a simple BMI songwriter/composer search. Now before Townsend fans start the riot or attempt to burn down the Library of Congress copyrights and patents offices, there should be an explanation.

Henry has 11 single recordings with his name, or alias on them. There are two Columbia , one Paramount, and four Bluebird 78rpm recordings from 1929 to 1937. That's only seven records with the name "Henry Townsend" on them, but there is one "Jesse Townsend" (on Victor) and three "Henry Thomas" (on Bluebird) recordings that are aliases of Townsend's. Then there are 27 albums (vinyl LP discs) that have Townsend's music and name on them, but there are only 9 that are primarily Henry's (first-release - not reissues or various artist compilations) recordings. Then, on those recordings one has to remove the songs that are cover versions ( Townsend recording someone else's song) and you'll end up with about forty or fifty songs perhaps. But Henry’s greatest contribution is that of a sideman, and the early recordings of artists from St. Louis were group efforts, although credited to one principal artist of the group. A handful of artists would get together and practice and then pile into cars to drive to the recording studios in cities like Chicago or Grafton, Wisconsin. This is how several very popular songs from St Louisans were recorded.

Townsend was also sideman to two of the most prolific bluesmen; Roosevelt Sykes and Walter Davis. Being uncredited on the recording logs and record labels made things hard for Townsend especially since copyright laws changed in the 1970s. Recordings before the 1978 copyright act are subject to the 1909 copyright rules and that change was made in just about the middle of Townsend’s career.
In the late 1980s, someone brought to Henry’s attention John Mayall’s recording of a version of “Tears Came Rolling Down”, a song released by Walter Davis. Davis had passed away years ago and Townsend claimed that he was co-writer of that song. Mayall and/or his record company paid Townsend and the St Louis Blues Society began a project to get copyright for all of Townsend’s work. That project found over 300 songs and the last anyone knows, a lawyer applied for, and Townsend recieved copyright certificates for them


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