Saunders Samuel King was the first blues artist to score a # 1 hit Oakland in 1942. This number one hit brought him instant fame and put the City of Oakland on the hit parade for blues and R&B forever. Oakland and Los Angeles, California are considered the biggest contributors to what is known as West Coast Blues. Oakland has its own sound and can be described as slow and mournful with simple 1-4-5 blues changes. That was partially true until the influx of Texas musicians who played a very fast and straight-forward shuffle gave Oakland Blues a much livelier beat.
Oakland’s 7th Street was the entertainment center for the African American community and social center on any night of the week. The world famous Slim Jenkins Supper Club which included a restaurant, bar and showroom, was known as Oakland’s high-class blues & jazz club. 7th Street had something for everyone from high-class Slim Jenkins to hole in the wall clubs. These clubs were lined up and down the street and were packed every Friday & Saturday night.
Many other businesses made their home on 7th Street including Wolf Records which made its first home on 7th Street. Paul Reed and his family opened Reed Record Shop where music lovers could pick up the latest blues, jazz or gospel hits. Bob Geddins, the Godfather of Oakland Blues, was the owner of Big Town Records, a recording studio located on the corner of 7th & Center Streets. During the war era, Big Town Records had moderate success recording local gospel artists. In 1946, after meeting singer and guitarist Lowell Folsom, Bob Geddins’ Big Town Records made the switch to blues and Oakland made its mark on the musical map forever.
Bob Geddins was the first African-American in the bay area to own a record plant and recording studio. He was the first African-American to have numerous record labels. He set up his own distribution network by loading them in the trunk of his car and taking his records all over the United States from Los Angeles to Texas or any other city where hot blues was played.
Oakland’s West Coast musical history foundation began on 7th Street. The music played and recorded on 7th Street produced some of today’s most popular artists including B.B. King, Little Milton, Lowell Folsom, James Brown, Jimmy McCracklin, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Rod Stewart, the Rolling Stones, Prince, M.C. Hammer and even country star Allen Jackson. Allen Jackson recorded a song written by K.C. Douglas and Bob Geddins called Mercury Blues that went platinum for Jackson.
There are so many music stories like this that you begin to understand why 7th Street in West Oakland is called the Home of Oakland Blues! These are some of the reasons why our project, The Music They Played on 7th Street Oakland Walk of Fame is a passionate project of the West Coast Blues Society.