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Robert Shaw

He didn't record much at all -- a marvelous 1963 album for Almanac, reissued on Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie label, remains his principal recorded legacy -- but barrelhouse pianist Robert Shaw helped greatly to establish a distinctive regional style of pounding the 88s around Houston, Fort Worth, and Galveston during the 1920s and '30s. Those decades represented Shaw's playing heyday, when he forged a stunning barrelhouse style of his own in the bars, dancehalls, and whorehouses along the route of the Santa Fe Railroad. Shaw got around -- in 1933, he had a radio program in Oklahoma City. But by the mid-'30s, Shaw relegated his playing to the back burner to open a grocery store. Mack McCormick coaxed him back into action in 1963 and the results as collected on Arhoolie were magnificent; "The Cows" was a piece of incredible complexity that would wilt anything less than a legitimate ivories master. Shaw continued to perform stateside and in Europe intermittently during the 1970s, turning up unexpectedly in California in 1981 to help Strachwitz celebrate Arhoolie's 20th anniversary. ~ Bill Dahl
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