I don't know how many of you have heard of Herve Duerson: he was a mystery man who recorded 4 superb ragtime-influenced piano solos for Gennett in Richmond, Indiana in 1929, as well as recording accompaniments for various other people, such as Teddy Moss. His records are absurdly rare, with Evening Chimes Waltz and Naptown Special surviving in only one known copy each.
Here are links to two of his songs on You Tube: Avenue Strut and Easy Drag. Here's a link to one of his accompaniments to Teddy Moss.
Not much has been written about Duerson; the most substantial thing I've seen is in the liner notes to Yazoo's superb CD Mama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here: Strutting The Dozens. There, Bob Hall says that Gennett misspelled his name on their labels, and that his real name was 'Harvey Deerson', and that he was remembered as a pianist with the DuValle Brothers Band in Indianapolis in the late 20s. I assume the 2nd statement is true, tho the first statement is false.
From my digging around on Ancestry.com, I've been able to flesh out a surprising amount of info on Duerson. He left a bit of a paper trail, and it's fortunate that he had such an unusual name (and Herve Duerson WAS his real name*). And he WAS indeed from Indianapolis, as his song Naptown Special suggests.
Herve Duerson first turns up in June 1917, with his WW1 draft card: his name is given as Hervey B. Duerson, and he's registered as living in Marion, Indiana, in Grant County. It also says he was born Apr 8, 1887 in Thurber, Texas (described by Wikipedia as 'a coal-mining ghost town in Erath County, Texas, 75 miles west of Fort Worth'). He signed the draft card as 'Hervey B. Duerson', and gave his occupation as 'porter'.
Duerson next turns up in 1922, with an Indiana state marriage record in Marion County, Indiana, the county where Indianapolis is: on Dec. 28, 1922, Herve B. Duerson married one Mattie L Coffey. If you dig around on her, you see a 'Mattie Caffee' listed in the 1920 census (Herve himself wasn't), born ~1898 in Indiana and living in Indianapolis. Her maiden name, tho, was Mattie Nunn, under which name the 1910 census lists her as born ~1898, and again living in Indianapolis.
Herve again isn't listed in the 1930 census, but his wife Mattie is, again listed as born ~1898, and living in an Indianapolis boarding house, working as a servant. No record of Herve there, but he had made his records the year before, at age of 41.
Herve himself pops up again in his WW2 draft registration: Herve Barnett Duerson, listed as born April 8, 1888 in Thurber, TX, is living at 2632 Ethyl St., Indianapolis, is still married to Mattie Duerson, and is working for the WPA.
Sometime after that, probably during the war, Duerson and his wife made the move to California: according to the California Social Security Death Index, Hervey Barnet Duerson, born April 8, 1888 in Indiana, died April 17, 1955 in Los Angeles, CA, aged 67. His mother's maiden name is listed as Harris, and he was buried at the LA National Cemetery on Apr 22, 1955.
Mattie hung on a lot longer: now listed as born May 30 1897, the Social Security Death Index says she died in Los Angeles on February 15, 1985. She would have been 87.
Duerson's fairly early birth year, 1888, helps explain the heavy ragtime/preblues cast to his recordings, since he would have come of age before blues had really permeated African-American piano playing styles.
(*for the record, no 'Harvey Deerson' is listed as living in Indiana.)
Alura Mack (Sallie Taylor), vocal
Herve Duerson, acc. piano
Richmond, Indiana / 28 February / 1929