Robert Shaw (August 9, 1908 – May 18, 1985) was an American blues and boogie-woogie pianist….who was best known for his 1963 album, The Ma Grinder…..as Shaw was born in Stafford, Texas….while being the son of farm owners Jesse and Hettie Shaw….whereas the family also owned a Steinway grand piano… on which his sisters had lessons in playing….but Shaw’s father was against allowing his son to learn the instrument. Shaw worked with his father on the family’s ranch….and played the piano whenever his family was out….with the first song he learned being “Aggravatin’ Papa Don’t You Try to Two-Time Me.” In his teenage years Shaw traveled to Houston,Texas to listen to jazz musicians at nearby roadhouses…. and that is when Shaw found a piano teacher and paid for lessons with his earnings.
He learned a barrel-house style of playing from musicians in the Fourth Ward of Houston…..when in the 1920’s Shaw was part of the “Santa Fe Circuit”….which was named after touring musicians utilizing the Santa Fe freight trains. Although he played in Chicago, Shaw mainly restricted himself to Texas…. while performing as a soloist in the clubs and roadhouses in and around Sugarland, Richmond, Kingsville, Houston and Dallas….and during the height of the 1930 oil boom around Kilgore Texas. Two years later he traveled to Kansas City, Kansas, to perform….when in 1933 he hosted a radio show in Oklahoma City. He relocated to Texas, first to Fort Worth and then to Austin. Here he settled down and took up residence, owning a grocery store known as the Stop and Swat.
Shaw married Martha Landrum in December 1939….and his grocery in Austin in partnership with Martha for many years….and in 1962 he was named the black businessman of the year in Austin. In 1963, Shaw recorded an album, Texas Barrel-House Piano….which was produced by Robert “Mack” McCormick ….and released by McCormick’s Almanac Book and Recording Company….albeit Arhoolie Records later reissued the LP under the title The Ma Grinder….as the album contained old favorites such as “The Ma Grinder”, “The Cows” and “Whores Is Funky”…..of which some of them were too risque to have been issued previously.
In 1967, seven years before his retirement from the grocery trade….that is when Shaw recommenced concert playing….and with the revival of his career, he played at the Kerrville Folk Festival, overseas in Amsterdam, Frankfurt and at the Berlin Jazz Festival…. as well as the Smithsonian Institution’s American Folk Life Festival, the World’s Fair Expo in Canada….and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival….and he played with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the 1973 Austin Aqua Festival….while continuing to perform in the United States and in Europe intermittently in the 1970’s….and turning up unexpectedly in California in 1981 to help Strachwitz celebrate Arhoolie’s 20th anniversary. As seen in this video herewith….Robert Shaw performs at Austin City Limits in 1983…..and plays a medley of some of his most popular songs including “Piggly Wiggly”….“Do The Mess Around”….and “Playing In The Grass” before a packed house in Austin.
Shaw died of a heart attack in Austin, on May 16, 1985….and was interred at the Capital Memorial Gardens….then two weeks after his death, the Texas State Senate passed a resolution in honor of his contribution to the state’s musical heritage.