Roland was an American blues, boogie-woogie and jazz pianist,
guitarist and singer, noted for his association with
Josh White and Sonny Scott. Music
journalist, Gérard Herzhaft, stated that Roland was 'a great piano player...
as comfortable in boogie-woogies as in slow blues.' 'Roland - with his
manner of playing and his singing - was direct and rural,' Herzhaft added.
Roland was born in Ralph, Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, on either December 20,
1902 (according to his Social Security documentation) or December 4, 1903
(according to his death certificate). He started playing on the Birmingham
blues circuit in the 1920s. A competent and versatile pianist, his range
covered slow blues to upbeat and jaunty boogie-woogie numbers. He was also
skilled as a guitar player, and possessed a forceful singing voice. Between
1933 and 1935, Roland traveled to New York on three separate occasions,
recording around fifty songs under his own name for Banner Records (ARC). In
1933, Roland recorded 'Red Cross Store Blues' (variously 'Red Cross Blues'),
his cynical viewpoint on welfare benefits. Amongst his other better known
efforts are 'No Good Biddie,' 'Jookit Jookit,' 'Piano Stomp,' 'Whatcha Gonna
Do,' and 'Early This Morning.'
In addition to his solo output, Roland also recorded as an accompanist for
other musicians. For example, the guitarist and singer Sonny Scott recorded
fourteen tracks for Vocalion in 1933, all of them backed by Roland. The
tracks included two instrumentals ('Guitar Stomp' and 'Railroad Stomp'),
billed on record as the Jolly Two, where Roland matched Scott's guitar work.
Lucille Bogan was usually accompanied by Roland on piano, although he
sometimes played an acoustic guitar backing. She was also in New York in
1933, and, apparently to conceal her identity, began recording as Bessie
Jackson for Banner Records. She recorded over 100 songs between 1933 and
1935, including some of her biggest commercial successes such as 'Seaboard
Blues', 'Troubled Mind', and 'Superstitious Blues'.
During this same period Roland also accompanied Josh White on several
Bogan's final recordings with Roland and White included two takes of 'Shave
'Em Dry', recorded in New York on Tuesday March 5, 1935. The unexpurgated
alternate take is notorious for its explicit sexual references, a unique
record of the lyrics sung in after-hours adult clubs.
Roland did not record beyond this point and, by 1950, had become a farmer,
then known by the nicknames of 'Old Soul' and 'Shave 'Em Dry'. In the 1960s,
Roland also operated as a street musician for several years, but
accidentally lost his sight after intervening in a neighbor's argument,
which saw him inadvertently hit by buckshot. In the late 1960s Roland
retired to Fairfield, Alabama, and was cared for by his daughters, having
earlier being widowed.
He died of lung cancer on October 12, 1972 in Fairfield.
His track 'Every Morning Blues' (recorded August 2, 1934, New York),
appeared on the 1992 compilation album, Roots 'n Blues: The Retrospective
1925–1950. In 1994, Document Records released a twin set of all of Roland's