ARTISTSONGALBUM
Big Maceo Worried Life Blues Big Maceo Vol. 1 (1941-1945)
Big Maceo Ramblin’ Blues Big Maceo Vol. 1 (1941-1945)
Big Maceo County Jail Blues Big Maceo Vol. 1 (1941-1945)
Tampa Red She's Love Crazy Tampa Red Vol. 12 (1941-1945)
Tampa Red Let Me Play With Your Poodle Tampa Red Vol. 12 (1941-1945)
Tampa Red She Want to Sell My Monkey Tampa Red Vol. 12 (1941-1945)
Big Maceo Tuff Luck Blues Big Maceo Vol. 1 (1941-1945)
Big Maceo I Got The Blues Big Maceo Vol. 1 (1941-1945)
Big Maceo Poor Kelly Blues Big Maceo Vol. 1 (1941-1945)
Tampa Red Better Leave My Gal Alone Tampa Red Vol. 13 (1945-1947)
Tampa Red Mercy Mama Tampa Red Vol. 12 (1941-1945)
Big Maceo I'm So Worried Big Maceo Vol. 1 (1941-1945)
Big Maceo Kid Man Blues Big Maceo Vol. 1 (1941-1945)
Big Maceo Macy Special (Flying Boogie) Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
John & Grace Brim Strange Man Blues John Brim 1950-1953
John & Grace Brim Mean Man BluesJohn Brim 1950-1953
Big Maceo Come On Home Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Big Maceo Texas Stomp Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Big Maceo Detroit Jump Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Big Bill Broonzy Cell No. 13 Blues Big Bill Broonzy Vol. 12 (1945-1947)
Jazz Gillum Look On Yonder Wall Jazz Gillum Vol. 4 (1946-1949)
Sonny Boy Williamson Early In The Morning The Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
Big Maceo Winter Time Blues Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Big Maceo Won't Be A Fool No More Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Big Maceo Chicago Breakdown Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Eddie Boyd Blue Monday Blues Eddie Boyd 1947-1950
Eddie Boyd Chicago Is Just That Way Eddie Boyd 1947-1950
Big Maceo Maceo's 32-20 Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Big Maceo Broke And Hungry Blues Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Big Maceo Do You Remember Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Little Johnny Jones Early In The Morning Tampa Red Vol. 14 (1949-1951)
Little Johnny Jones Worried Life BluesLive in Chicago with Billy Boy Arnold

Show Notes:

Blues writer Chris Smith wrote the following about Big Maceo: “On both slow blues and boogies, Big Maceo played powerful, sometimes challengingly chromatic bass figures and anvil-sparkling right-hand flourishes and solos. He could be a jovial singer, but more typical were husky, plaintive, fatalistic accounts of trouble with women and the law.  …His playing and Tampa Red’s amplified guitar foreshadow the sound of postwar Chicago.” Maceo had a profound influence on postwar Chicago piano despite a relativley sparse discography; his short career spanned the years 1941 through 1950, where he recorded just over three dozen sides as well as backing partner Tampa Red on eighteen sides and providing session work behind Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jazz Gillum and John & Grace Brim. On today's program we spotlight Maceo's finest sides plus his superlative session work behind some of Chicago's biggest stars as well as spinning tracks by Eddie Boyd and Little Johnnie Jones, two men who worked and were influenced by Maceo.

Big Maceo

It's worth quoting Mike Rowe in full who wrote in his seminal book, named after one of  Maceo's most celebrated numbers, Chicago Breakdown (later retitled Chicago Blues): “Unlike other pianists, he did not let his musical knowledge impair his blues feeling; he played nothing but the blues. He would have been referred to slightingly by Blind John Davis as one of the 'double-time guys' for his thunderous piano style, which sounded as though the whole 245 lbs of his frame was transmitted directly through his finger- tips, so powerful was the sound of hammered treble figures over a rock-steady eight-to-the-bar bass. The directness and energy of his piano playing, with little light or shade, contrasted perfectly with his singing, his smoky-brown voice investing the songs with a depth unequaled by most of his contemporaries. His songs were mostly his own, frequently 16-bars. with always interesting lyrics. Texas Blues, County Jail Blues and the beautiful Poor Kelly Blues were fine songs but he is best remembered for the superb and much recorded Worried Life Blues, his first record. It borrowed the verse from Sleepy John Estes' Someday, Baby but the rest of it was Maceo's. … Sometimes he used traditional themes, like Big Road Blues or his version of 44 Blues (an almost mandatory piece for a pianist), which was titled Maceo's 32-20. Even Maceo's music, heavy and unrelenting from his first session in June 1941, increased in power in the early postwar years, when he recorded the romping and very exciting Kid Man Blues, instrumentals with vocal comments like Texas Stomp and Detroit Jump, fine blues like Winter Time Blues, and the ultimate in his piano art, the classic Chicago Breakdown, a boogie-woogie solo of enormous power and drive. Sadly this 1945 recording was the last that Maceo made at the height of his powers; he was paralyzed from a stroke in mid-1946, and, though he recovered, never again did he play with the same authority. Big Maceo's place in the development of the Chicago piano blues is vitally important; taking over from the late Josh Altheimer, his influence can be traced through his successors, Little Johnnie Jones, Henry Gray and Otis Spann. ”

Hattie Spruel was an ambitious woman and first met Maceo when she hired him to play for parties in her home. They were soon married and Hattie went to work to make a name for her new husband. The couple moved to Chicago in 1941, where she made the acquaintance of prominent guitarists Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red. She introduced them to Maceo and the two were impressed with his skills. They brought him to the attention of RCA's  producer, Lester Melrose, and within just a few weeks Maceo was recording for the famed Bluebird label.The first session would prove to be extremely fruitful for Merriweather. He recorded a total of 14 sides, with the first single becoming the most important of his career: "Worried Life Blues". At the conclusion of the war, Melrose immediately brought his stable of blues artists back to the studio. Maceo resumed his work with Tampa Red.

During these years, Maceo moved back to Detroit, but made frequent return trips to Chicago where he would perform with both Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy on the city's South Side. Through the 1940's Tampa remained a prime seller among black audiences with hits like “Let Me Play With Your Poodle” and “She Wants To Sell My Monkey.” During his Bluebird stint, between 1934 and 1953, he recorded over 200 sides. Big Maceo teamed up with him for for a while, and after Maceo suffered a stroke, Sunnyland Slim filled in until Maceo’s protege  Johnnie Jones took over on piano. Maceo backs Tampa on the above numbers as well as many memorable one like "She's Love Crazy", ""Mercy Mama" and "Better Leave My Gal Alone" among others.

Outside of his own recordings and those backing Tampa Red, Maceo backed Big Bill Broonzy, Jazz Gillum and Sonny Boy Williamson on notable sessions. Maceo backed Broonzy on back-to-back sessions in February 1945. Twelve sides were cut with several unissued, he backed Jazz Gillum on a six song session the following year, including playing on the original version of “Look On Yonder Wall” and backed Sonny Boy Williamson in October 1945 on a four song session with Tampa Red.

Unfortunately, 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. Among the artists who filled this role would be Eddie Boyd in 1947 for sides done for Victor and Johnny Jones in 1949 for Specialty. Another pianist to occupy this spot would be Otis Spann, who idolized Big Maceo. He would also sometimes fill in for the elder musician for gigs whenever Maceo was unable to perform. Big Maceo retired from playing in 1949 following yet another stroke. Poor health and a lifetime of heavy drinking eventually led to a fatal heart attack. He died on February 23, 1953 in Chicago. His body was returned to his home in Detroit for burial five days later.

Maceo's protege Johnny Jones blew into the windy city from Mississippi in 1946 and already new his way around the 88’s. He was first influenced by Big Maceo and followed him into Tampa Red’s group in 1947 after Maceo was stricken by a stroke. As mentioned above he even helped play right hand for the elder man on a few tunes. Jones played piano behind Tampa for RCA Victor between 1949-1953. In addition to his piano duties he also helped out vocally even singing lead on Tampa's 1951 version of "Early in the Morning" which we spotlight on today's program. Jones also played the clubs with Tampa often working at the Peacock and C&T clubs. Jones later came to prominence backing Elmore James through the 50’s as well as cutting a handful of fine sides under his own name. Luckily Jones was captured at length just before his death. He was caught on tape in 1963 where he was working with Billy Boy Arnold in a Chicago folk club called the Fickle Pickle run by Michael Bloomfield. Norman Dayron recorded Johnny on portable equipment which has been released on the Alligator record titled Johnny Jones with Billy Boy Arnold. From that recording we close our show with Jones delivering a superb rendition of Maceo's "Worried Life Blues." Sadly Jones died from lung cancer in 1964, shortly after his fortieth birthday.

Little Johnnie Jones

John Brim picked up his early guitar licks from the 78s of Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy before venturing first to Indianapolis in 1941 and Chicago four years later. He met his wife Grace in 1947; fortuitously, she was a capable drummer who played on several of his records. In fact, she was the vocalist on a 1950 single for Detroit-based Fortune Records that signaled the beginning of his recording career. Those numbers "Strange Man b/w Mean Man Blues" are featured today and sport the piano of Big Maceo. One other track from this session was unreleased.

Eddie Boyd migrated up to Memphis where he began to play the piano and 1n 1941, Boyd settled in made it to Chicago. In Chicago fell in with the Bluebird label and producer Lester Melrose. He backed harp legend Sonny Boy Williamson on his 1945 classic "Elevator Woman," also accompanying Bluebird stars Jazz Gillum, Tampa Red and Big Maceo on a four-song 1947 date when Maceo was unable to play piano due to a stroke. Melrose produced Boyd's own 1947 recording debut for RCA as well; the pianist stayed with Victor through 1949.

Share