Henry "Ragtime Texas" Thomas

Born to sharecropping former slaves in Mineola sometime around 1874, Henry Thomas played guitar and quills (panpipes) he wore in a rack around his neck, Jimmy Reed-style, fifty years in front of Jimmy Reed. Like every black dance musician of his day, and like most East Texan musicians ever, he played blues and rags and square dance numbers and pop tunes and whatever else would make an audience dance or cause a street crowd to cough up a little spending change. He left home young and traveled far, wide and free at a time when it could be death to be black, breathing, and more than a couple few miles from home. The recordings he made in the late 1920s -- call them country, call them blues, call them what you will -- have had an unending, still unfolding life in the world he wandered. Listen to him --- listen -- on “Railroadin’ Some,” calling out the stops as East Texas rattles past:

“Change cars on the T-P, leavin’ Fort Worth, Texas, goin’ through Dallas . . . now Terrell . . . Grand Saline . . . Mineola . . . Tyler . . . Longview . . . Judson . . . Marshall . . . Little Sandy . . . Texarkana. . . and double back to Fort Worth. .