ARTISTSONGALBUM
Detroit Count Hastings Street Opera Pt 1Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
John Lee Hooker Miss Lorraine Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
John Lee Hooker Talkin BoogieDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
John Lee Hooker w/ Eddie Kirkland Pouring Down RainDetroit Special
Calvin Frazier Sweet Lucy (Drinking Woman78
T.J. FowlerGot Nobody To Tell My TroublesT.J. Fowler 1948-1958
Bobo JenkinsDemocrat BluesDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Bobo JenkinsBad Luck And TroubleDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
One String Sam Need a Hundred DollarsDetroit Blues Rarities Vol. 4: Hastings Street Blues Opera
Sylvester Cotton I'm Gone Blues Blues Sensation: Detroit Downhome Recordings 1948-1949
Detroit SlimNelly MaeDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Piano BillMilwaukee BluesDetroit Blues Rarities: Hastings Street Blues Opera Vol. 4
Baby Boy WarrenMy Special Friend Blues Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Baby Boy WarrenPlease Don't Think I'm Nosey Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Baby Boy WarrenNot Welcome Anymore Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Doctor RossThe Sunnyland Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Little Sonny I'll Love You Baby Until The Day I DieDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Eddie Burns Sittin' Here Wondering
Eddie Burns SuperstitionDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Eddie Burns Papa's Boogie Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
L.C. Green Hold Me In Your ArmsDown Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Sam Kelly Ramblin' Around Bues Down Home Blues Detroit: Detroit Special
Walter MitchellPet Milk BluesDetroit Ghetto Blues 1948-1954
Robert RichardWig Wearing WomanDetroit Blues Rarities Vol. 1: Blues Guitar Killers
Elder R. Wilson Trouble EverywhereDetroit Blues Rarities Vol. 2: Harp Suckers
Eddie Kirkland & John Lee Hooker It's Time For Lovin' To Be DoneThe Complete John Lee Hooker

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 featured artists, others will be discussed in upcoming 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.

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Like Beale Street in Memphis and Central Avenue in Los Angeles, Detroit too had a famous black strip. As Mike Rowe wrote: "…Paradise Valley, was three-quarters Black by day and, at night, became an integrated strip of bars, clubs, private clubs and restaurants which spelt Entertainment -that is music, prostitution and gambling." Clubs like The Palms, Club Harlem, the Corner Bar, Jake's, the Ace Bar, the Silver Grill, the Three Star Bar, The Flame, Sportee's Lounge and the Horseshoe Bar would host nationally renowned performers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Billie Holliday and Duke Ellington. The blues was relegated to rougher bars, house parties and blind pigs.

The title of today's program comes from a song by the Detroit Count. The Detroit Count (Bob White) had recorded for Bluebird in 1942 but would find greater fame with his recording of the two-part “Hastings Street Opera" in 1948:

Forest and Hastings! Sunnie Wilson, longest bar in town.
That's the onlyst bar you can walk in when you get ready to buy a bottle of beer you have to walk a mile after you get in the joint
The Willis Theater! That's the only picture show in town; if you missed the picture fifty years ago you can see it right now.
Leland and Hastings! Leland Bar! That's the only bar in town where bartenders carry pistols.
Joe's Record Shop. He got everybody in there 'cept a T-bone steak
 

Sunnie Wilson, owner of Forest Club, recalled: “I had local pianists play for my customers in the lounge. A local character, pianist and signer, Detroit Count came in my place about every night. His 1948 piano-rap hit  “Hastings Street Opera” talked about me an all the people along the avenue.” Joe Von Battle recorded the song in his studio on Hastings Street and leased it to King Records. It became a local hit. The Count cut only eight other sides the same year none of which are well remembered.

John Lee Hooker was by far the greatest success to come out of Detroit, and like Lightnin' Hopkins and Jimmy Reed garnered a host of emulators, none of which achieved Hooker's fame. Hooker's discovery was either by Jack Brown of Fortune Records or Bernie Besman of Pan American and Sensation. The Fortune recording of “Miss Sadie Mae” and “609 Boogie” could have been his first  although Brown wouldn't issue them because Hooker had recorded for Besman at the same time; a standard practice for Hooker. At this time Hooker was playing the local bars in a band setting but in a stroke of genius Besman recorded him solo taking advantage of the full range of his exciting and and unpredictable guitar style. From this session came the immortal “Boogie Chillen” which became a huge success.

Read Liner Notes

Eddie Burns left home at 16 and, after a spell in Clarksdale, moved to Waterloo, Iowa then to Detroit in 1948. At a house party he met John Lee Hooker. Burns went along to a recording session with Hooker and played harmonica on "Miss Eloise" and "Burnin' Hell."  "Papa's Boogie," Eddie Burns' 1948 debut, is a harmonica/guitar duet recorded by Bernie Bessman and leased to the Holiday label which issued under the Slim Pickens pseudonym. Through the 50's he cut sides for JVB, Deluxe and Chess. He continued to cut scattered singles through the 60's.

Born in Alabama, Eddie Kirkland headed to Detroit in 1943. There he hooked up with John Lee Hooker five years later, recording with him for several firms as well as under his own name for RPM in 1952, King in 1953, and Fortune in 1959. In 1961-62 he cut his first album for Tru-Sound Records. Leaving Detroit for Macon, GA, in 1962, Kirkland signed on with Otis Redding as a sideman and show opener not long thereafter.

Baby Boy Warren (Robert Henry Warren) and his family moved to Memphis before he was one. His brothers Jack and Willie were good guitarists and  before he was ten Baby Boy himself showed aptitude. "When I was a little kid, the man I most admired was a midget fellow," he told Mike Leadbitter and Mike Rowe. "They called him Little Buddy Doyle. I got most of my style from  him." Warren would take a train to Helena, Arkansas to meet with the likes of Robert Lockwood, Willie Love, Peck Curris and Calvin Frazier ans also met Sonny Boy Williamson. Warren left for Detroit in 1944. He made his recording debut for Staff in 1949, cutting more sides for the label and Sampson in 1950 and in 1954 cut a session for JVB featuring Sonny Boy Williamson. His final sides came at the end of that year for Blue Lake and Drummond.

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