Dan SaneWe think of early Blues performance as just a guy with a guitar or harp, pouring his heart into a solitary lament, but in reality they mostly performed in pairs, with a ‘second’ guitar propelling the tune while the ‘lead’ instrument played turnarounds and melodic lines. One of the earliest and most successful of these partnerships was between Dan Sane and Frank Stokes, two men who grew up on Delta plantations who were attracted to the ‘high life and bright lights’ in Memphis. The many records Dan and Frank made in the late 20s give us an insight into the sound of the original country music on its journey to the city, and from a solo music to a ‘band sound’.

 

Dan Sane (or possibly Sain or Sang) was born in Hernando MS in 1896 and, while he was still a teenager, he took his guitar to Memphis in search of his fortune. There he teamed up with a friend he had grown up with with back in the Delta, Frank Stokes, and they played together in parks and on streetcorners. Dan’s steady but complex flatpicking style was the perfect foil for Frank’s flowing,  jazzy chording and their voices meshed well too, with Franks fine, clean tone contrasting with Dan’s rough-edged growl. They began performing as The Beale Street Sheiks, with Will Betts on fiddle, playing the good-time hokum Blues made popular by the jug-band craze in Memphis. When Paramount’s field recording crew came to town in 1927, looking for talent to feed the growing demand for ‘race music‘, Dan and Frank got a shot at making records. They must have sold pretty well, because over the next three years the pair cut more than thirty tracks, getting a call every time the Paramount guys were in town.

Dan and Frank both sing versions of ‘It’s a Good Thing’ (Frank’s first)


Both men wrote songs, and Dan’s best known compositions are ‘Downtown Blues’ and ‘Mr. Crump Don’t Like It’, a reference to the Mayor of Memphis and his attempts to clean up the town. After 1930 record sales fell dramatically and the partnership broke up, although Dan would record again in 1933, alongside Will Betts on fiddle, with Jack Kelly’s South Memphis Jug Band. Later in the 30’s Dan and Frank teamed up again, sometimes joining travelling shows or circuses, but mainly busking on the streets of Memphis. This continued until Frank passed away in 1952, and Dan followed him four years later. Both men were in their 50s when they died, and if they had survived a few more years would surely have found fame (and maybe fortune, at last) in the Folk/Blues Revival.