Thu 6 Sep 2007
It's hard to keep up with glut of blues reissues mostly pumped out by European labels taking full advantage of the fifty year copyright law. One label that deserves attention is Boulevard Vintage who for the past few years have been putting out intelligent, well conceived multi CD sets of post-war down home blues. The label has zeroed in on a very specific, rich vein of blues history, roughly 1945-1955 when a whole slew of enterprising small labels were catering to an audience that still craved down home blues. As Paul Vernon writes: "The migratory patterns from south to north to west added an essential ingredient to the new market for blues recording. Urbanization created tastes for a music that fit the new times and locations , contributing to the birth of what we now recognize as Rhythm & Blues. In Chicago, the southern rural styles, as we now all surely know, were connected directly to 110-volt wall sockets and booted through fuzzy amplifiers to create the sound that would eventually go around the world. Yet there was still an audience for the rough, exciting music of southern juke joints and street corners, of local radio broadcasts and house parties. Who was going to service that market?" The answer can be found on the 110 songs spread across Boulevard Vintage's two latest 2-CD sets.
Down Home Blues Classics – Memphis & The South 1949-1954 collects music recorded in locales like Jackson, MS, Memphis, TN, New Orleans, LA, Crowley, LA for labels dear to record collectors hearts such as Sun, Trumpet, Bullet, Excello, Imperial and several others. Many of the artists will be familiar to collectors and we get multiple cuts by artists like Joe Hill Louis, Arthur Crudup (moonlighting under Percy Crudup!) Lightning Slim, Papa Lightfoot, Big Joe Williams, Jerry McCain among others. What's nice about this series is that compilers tend to pull out the less anthologized, obscurer sides by these artists. So while we get the well known, and simply amazing, "Wine, Whiskey & Women" by Papa Lightfoot we also get his pounding harmonica wailer "P. L. Blues", likewise for Willie Nix's celebrated "Truckin' Little Woman"which is on board but so is the much less known flip side, the unbelievably raw, "Just One Mistake."
It's the rarer stuff, less anthologized that makes these sets so valuable. While Boogie Bill Webb is not exactly an unknown his sides are not readily available. His two cuts here are particularly welcome especially the throbbing John Lee Hooker boogie of "Bad Dog." It's too bad his two other Imperial sides weren't included. We get a batch of fine down home sides by obscure artists like Country Jim Bledsoe, the marvelous Louis Campbell (these two never before issued numbers are not even listed in the blues discography), Tommy Lee (one of only 5 known copies of this rarity) and three of the four excellent tracks the by the mysterious Little Sam Davis cut for Rockin' in 1953 featuring some of the earliest guitar by Earl Hooker.
Down Home Blues Classics – California & The West Coast 1948-1954 delves into the fascinating records made in the immediate post-war era, mainly in California, mostly by those migrating from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas. As Mike Rowe writes: "Unlike New York and Chicago there had been no blues or any kind of recording industry pre-war …The music as well as the industry was starting from scratch. …It was very often of Do-It yourself triumphing over the most adverse conditions."
While the above collection had it's fair share of well known artists that's not the case here. This collection, to quote the blurb, "presents probably the rarest recordings and the least-researched artists of the post-war era …there were many experiments to delight and intrigue us along the way; eschewing the bigger names we document those attempts rather than the final result." In fact the only big name to speak of is K.C. Douglas who's four sides include his first recordings notably his celebrated "Mercury Boogie." Douglas' harmonica player, Sidney Maiden, may also be somewhat known chiefly due to an album he cut for Bluesville. Maiden takes the vocals on the wonderfully doomy "Eclipse of the Sun" and pair of strong sides from 1955.
Only hardcore collectors are likely to know obscure artists such as Black Diamond, Slim Green, Willie B Huff, Sonny Boy Johnson, Little Son Willis, Jerry Perkins among others. The preponderance of lesser names has no bearing on the music which is uniformly strong. Take Willie B Huff, a magnificent down home singer who typified the emerging slow, doomy west coast sound. All four of Huff's sides are here including superb renditions of Lightnin' Hopkins' "Hello Central" as "Operator 209" and "Short Haired Woman" as "Beggar Man Blues." Other highlights include Sonny Boy Holmes, a fine Hopkins imitator whose sole four sides are on board, Slim Green's version of Curtis Jones' Tin Pan Alley as "Alla Blues" (a song that would evolve into the West Coast blues standard "Tin Pan Alley"), all eight Swing Time sides by the wonderful pianist/vocalist Little Son Willis who sounds like Doctor Clayton – his "Harlem Blues" a cover of Clayton's "Angels In Harlem" and the mysterious Black Diamond who's two fine solo guitar numbers are his only sides.
Both of these sets come highly recommended boasting very good sound (a definite upgrade from prior reissues) and very informative notes. Boulevard Vintage also has 4-CD sets of Chicago and Texas blues that are equally good and I can't wait to see what they put out next.