Detroit CountHastings Street Opera Pt 2Detroit Blues Rarities Vol. 4: Hastings Street Blues Opera
John Lee Hooker Have Mercy On MeDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
John Lee Hooker Henry's Swing Club The Complete John Lee Hooker Vol.1
John Lee Hooker w/ Eddie Kirkland Guitar Lovin' Man Detroit Special
T.J. Fowler w/ Alberta AdamsSay Baby SayT.J. Fowler 1948-1958
T.J. Fowler Red Hot Blues T.J. Fowler 1948-1958
Baby Boy WarrenBaby Boy BluesDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Baby Boy WarrenSanafee Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Johnny Howard Natural Man BluesDetroit Blues Rarities: Blues Guitar Killers Vol. 1
Howard Richard Lover Blues Battle Of Hastings Street
Grace Brim Strange ManA Fortune Of Blues Vol. 1
John BrimBus DriverDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Walter Mitchell Stop Messing AroundDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
L.C. Green Remember Way BackDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
Robert Richard Cadillac WomanDown Home Blue Classics 1943-1953
Eddie KirklandNo ShoesDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Eddie KirklandDone Somebody WrongDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Eddie KirklandI Mistreated A WomanBattle Of Hastings Street
Isaiah 'Doctor' RossCat Squirrel Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Isaiah 'Doctor' RossIndustrial BoogieDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Henry Smith Lonesome BluesDetroit Ghetto Blues 1948-1954
Henry Smith Good Rockin' MamaDetroit Ghetto Blues 1948-1954
Eddie BurnsWhere Did You Stay Last Night? John Lee Hooker/Eddie Burns: Detroit Blues
Eddie BurnsGangster Blues Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
James Taylor & Andrew DunhamLittle Bitty WomanBlues Sensation: Detroit Downhome Recordings 1948-1949s
Andrew DunhamShe Don't WalkBlues Sensation: Detroit Downhome Recordings 1948-1949
James Walton Papa DooDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
James Walton If You Don't Believe I'm LeavingBattle Of Hastings Street
Joe Weaver & His Blue NotesI Got The Blues For My BabyBattle of Hastings Street

Show Notes:

My first eye-opener to Detroit Blues came after picking up the album Detroit Ghetto Blues 1948-1954 part of a fantastic series of regional anthologies issued on the Nighthawk label. Later on I picked up earlier anthologies like Detroit Blues: The Early 1950s on Blues Classics, Detroit Blues on Kent and Detroit Special on Atlantic. As Leroy Pierson wrote in the notes to the Nighthawk album: “Though never really a blues recording center, by the mid twenties Detroit boasted a sizable black community attracted from the South by auto industry employment. Some like Charlie Spand and Big Maceo traveled to Chicago to record, but it was not until the late forties that local bluesmen had a chance to record on their own ground. A number of small time entrepreneurs began mastering titles in their record shop basements either for lease to established companies or for release on their own obscure labels which more often than not, found their only distribution outlet on the upstairs counter. Most Detroit artists were destined for the same commercial failure that eventually overcame such operations as Staff, Sampson, JVB and Von.” John Lee Hooker was the only artists to achieve long-lasting commercial success. Success of course didn't necessarily equate to quality a case in point being the impressive output of Eddie Kirkland and Eddie Burns, both firmly in Hooker's orbit, who can be heard on some of his recordings, as well as waxing fine sides under their own names. There were others like Baby Boy Warren and Bobo Jenkins who's output should have garnered them greater fame, then there was a slew of of tough down-home bluesmen like Sylvester Cotton, L.C. Green, Walter Mitchell and Robert Richard and others as well as more uptown artists such as T.J. Fowler, Todd Rhodes and Calvin Frazier. Today's notes will cover some of the artists not discussed in last week's show notes. We'll be bouncing around non-chronologically between 1948 and 1962 with most of the recordings, not all, recorded in the Motor City.

In addition to the ones listed above, there have been many collections of Detroit blues over the years, and most recently the 3-CD set Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special an immaculately compiled set by blues historian Mike Rowe. The set was a big inspiration for this three-part series and many tracks will be featured over the course of the programs. The set features a terrific booklet filled with great photos and the track list is filled with iconic performances and some incredible rarities. Mike was also very gracious when I reached out to him at his London home and consented to sit down for a chat about Detroit blues, the results of which will be featured throughout this series of programs. Mike also sent me a batch of articles he wrote about the Detroit scene for Blues & Rhythm magazine.

After studying piano at home and at the Detroit Conservatory of Music, T.J. Fowler began providing musical entertainment for patrons at his father's pool hall. Fowler assembled his own hot little group in 1947 and accompanied saxophonist Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams on that artist's first recordings for the Savoy label. T.J. Fowler began making records as a leader in 1948, beginning with small labels like Paradise and Sensation and landing his own contract with Savoy in 1952, sometimes featuring singers Freddie Johnson, Alberta Adams, and Floyd "Bubbles" McVay. Fowler's ensemble was also used to back vocalist Varetta Dillard and guitarist Calvin Frazier. Near the end of 1953 Fowler took his act to Chicago to wax what are believed to have been the only recordings he ever made outside of Detroit. Back in Detroit, Fowler and his men served as the backing band for T-Bone Walker and spent the next few years gigging around the Motor City and southeastern Michigan. By the end of the 1950's, Fowler was living in the industrial city of Ecorse where he ran his tiny independent Bow record label and led a jazz organ combo. Hired in 1959 by the relatively inexperienced Berry Gordy, Fowler applied his music industry know-how and managerial expertise to help Gordy create and establish the Motown record label.

After cutting some great sides in Chicago in the 1940's Big Maceo's career was cut short after he suffered a stroke in 1946 that left him almost completely paralyzed on his right side. Over the next few years, he would attempt to record several more times despite his handicap, and still remained a fine singer. Occasionally other pianists would play while he sang, and other pursuits found him sharing the keyboards with a second performer working the right side of the piano for him. In 1950 Maceo cut some sides for Fortune, some featuring the vocals of John and Grace Brim. One of those couplings, "Strange Man b/w Mean Man Blues" was John Brim's debut recording.

One of Maceo's admirers was Boogie Woogie Red: "My style is somethin' after Macey's style. He was playin' at Brown's club on Hastings for six years straight and I learn a lot from him." In 1946, Red returned to Detroit from a stint in Chicago and for the next fourteen years played with John Lee Hooker. Red also worked for a long spell with Baby Boy Warren and appears on some of his recordings.

Guitarist L.C. Green came to Detroit in the late forties according to his one time partner, Woodrow Adams, who grew up with L.C. in Minter City, Mississippi. Green waxed six songs songs  that saw release on Dot in 1952 and also recorded for Joe Von Battle, with only sone ide appearing on the Von label. Several other Green sides recorded by Battle saw release decades later on the Barrelhouse label. Mike Rowe noted that his "musical career was very much played out below the radar and whose only associates were harpists Walter Mitchell and the shadowy Sam Kelly.

Boogie Woogie Red
Boogie Woogie Red, photo by Peter Yates & Jerry Del Giudice

Walter Mitchell came to Detroit with his mother in 1926. He hoboed around the South during the 1930's playing and singing the blues. Drafted in 1942, Walter was wounded in the leg on the Pacific and discharged in 1944. He settled in Detroit, making a living from his music, frequently in company of his cousin, L.C. Green. Although he had been in the Detroit studios as a sideman, he made only two sessions under his name, first in 1948 with Robert Richard and another in 1954.

Robert Richard learned the guitar and the harmonica with his uncle. Like a lot of other southerners, came to work in the automobile industry in 1942. With his brother Howard he began playing the  Hastings Street clubs. He recorded with Walter Mitchell and pianist Boogie Woogie Red in 1948, then as a sideman on many Detroit recording sessions, particularly with Bobo Jenkins. He waxed some sides under his name for Chess in Chicago but those titles were never issued. Richard gave up music but was rediscovered by George Paulus who recorded him in 1975 and 1977 for the album Banty Rooster.

Born Charles Isaiah Ross on October 21, 1925 in Tunica, Mississippi. Upon his release from the military, Ross settled in Memphis, where he became a popular club fixture as well as the host of his own radio show on station WDIA. During the early '50s, Ross recorded his first sides for labels including Sun and Chess; in 1954 he settled in Flint, Michigan, where he went to work as a janitor for General Motors, a position he held until retiring. He recorded some singles for his own DIR label and for Fortune Records during this period. In 1965 he cut his first full-length LP, Call the Doctor, and that same year mounted his first European tour.

Little is known about a handful of fine artists featured today including Andrew Dunham, Henry Smith, Johnny Howard and Howard Richard. Andrew Dunham cut a batch of sides for the Sensation label in 1949. Dunham is also joined on two of his sides by an individual, whom previous releases of some of this material have identified only as "Taylor" and who would appear to be James Taylor. Johnny Howard cut eight sides in 1954, the bulk which were not released. Howard Richard was the brother of bluesman Robert Richard. Richard also played on a coupling by his brother.

Baby Boy Warren
Baby Boy Warren

Others heard from today include James Walton and Joe Weaver. The side included here are his first, recorded in Joe Von Battle's basement. Singer and harp player James Douglas "Little Daddy" Walton was a popular figure of the Detroit clubs. He cut a handful of sides for small Detroit labels like Fortune, its subsidiary Hi-Q and Big Star. Joe Weaver learned to play the piano from age nine. While at Northwestern High School he teamed up with fellow student Johnnie Bassett to form Joe Weaver and the Blue Notes. In 1953, Joe Von Battle recorded their instrumental "1540 Special", which ended up being released by De Luxe Records. Weaver and his band later became session musicians for Fortune Records.