1950’s Blues


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Sticks McGhee One Monkey Don't Stop The ShowSticks McGhee 1947-1951
Jimmy "Babby Face" LewisLet's Get Together And Make Some Love Jimmy "Baby Face" Lewis 1947-1955
Lawyer Houston Lawyer Houston BluesTexas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A.
Lawyer Houston Dallas Bepop BluesTexas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A.
Lawyer Houston Western Rider Blues Texas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A.
Big Joe TurnerThe Chill Is On Rhythm & Blues Years
Big Joe TurnerBump Miss SusieRhythm & Blues Years
Jimmy YanceyMake Me A Pallet On The FloorChicago Piano Vol. 1
Jimmy YanceyMonkey Woman Blues Chicago Piano Vol. 1
Little Brother MontgomeryTalkin' BluesBlues Piano: Chicago Plus
Little Brother MontgomeryVicksburg Blues '51Blues Piano: Chicago Plus
Meade "Lux" LewisMr. Freddie's Blues Boogie-Woogie Interpretations
Meade "Lux" LewisRiff boogieBlues Piano: Chicago Plus
Frank 'Sweet' WilliamsSweet's Slow Blues Blues Piano: Chicago Plus
Sticks McGhee Meet You in the MorningSticks McGhee 1947-1951
Ray CharlesRoll With Me BabyPure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Ray CharlesJumpin' in the Mornin'Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Big Joe TurnerBaby, I Still Want YouClassic Hits 1938-1952
Big Joe TurnerSweet Sixteen Classic Hits 1938-1952
Chuck NorrisLet Me KnowMessing With The Blues
Chuck NorrisMessin' UpMessing With The Blues
Ray CharlesLosing HandPure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Ray CharlesMr. Charles BluesPure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Big Joe TurnerTV MamaRhythm & Blues Years
Big Joe TurnerMarried Woman Rhythm & Blues Years
Professor LonghairTipitina The Complete 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairBall The Wall The Complete 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
John Lee HookerGuitar Lovin' ManDetroit Special
John Lee HookerReal, Real GoneDetroit Special
John Lee HookerPouring Down RainDetroit Special
Little Johnny JonesChicago Blues Blues Piano: Chicago Plus
Little Johnny JonesDoin' The Best I CanBlues Piano: Chicago Plus
Little Johnny JonesHoy Hoy Blues Piano: Chicago Plus

Show Notes:

My two-part feature on Atlantic Records was partly inspired by a terrific reissue series that was originally issued in the early 1970's. In the early 70's Pete Lowry convinced Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertegun to reissue some classic and previously unissued blues from the vaults (read the article below for more background). The plan was to issue twelve albums although only six saw the light of day.I was first heard this series at my college radio station which luckily had the complete set and were much played. This was a great series featuring excellent recordings by Blind Willie McTell, Lawyer Houston, Professor Longhair, Little Brother Montgomery, Jimmy Yancey, T-Bone Walker and others. The albums had excellent liner notes and packaged with wonderful photos in a gatefold album. We feature a number of these recordings on today's programs as well as a wealth of great recordings from Atlantic's, early years spanning the years 1950 through 1953. Our second feature on Atlantic Records focuses less on R&B and more on blues: featured today are several artists that appeared on those Atlantic reissue albums including Lawyer Houston,  Jimmy Yancey, Little Brother Montgomery, Meade Lux Lewis, Frank 'Sweet' Williams, Professor Longhair and John Lee Hooker.

I first heard Lawyer Houston on an Atlantic LP Texas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A. Until recently nothing was known about him. Sometime before June 7th 1950, when Atlantic bought them, he recorded eight titles at Jim Beck's studio on Ross Avenue, Dallas. Beck was also from Marshall, so that may have been a factor. He cut another session in autumn 1953 in L.A. Two songs were issued from the Dallas session, the first as by Lawyer Houston, the second as by Soldier Boy Houston. In “Western Rider Blues” he sings “My name is Lawyer Houston and I'm a Private First Class” which turns out to be true.

Houston was born in Marshall, Texas in 1917. He was inducted into the army in 1941 and served until 1946. He re-enlisted two months later and served until 1961. His songs “In The Army Since 1941” and “Lawton, Oklahoma Blues” are loosely autobiographical accounts of his time in the Philippines and Fort Sill near Lawton. As writer Neal Slavin notes: “Apart from their unusually informative lyrics, Houston's songs are notable for the springy rhythms with which he accompanies himself. In essence, his style is close to that of Lil' Son Jackson… …Two further songs,'Out In California Blues' and 'Going To The West Coast', were prophetic; in the former, Houston announces his intention of going to Los Angeles' Central Avenue to stay at the Hotel Dunbar, after which 'I'm going out to Hollywood and become a movie star'. The move took place but the Army intervened. They needed him in Korea, where war broke out on June 25, 1950. At his second and Iast recording session, “Far East Blues” and “Leavin' Korea” indicate a familiarity with Korea and Japan which in this artist's case is virtual proof of his presence there." Circa 1953/1954 Houston cut eight sides for the Hollywood label in Los Angeles with the sessions purchased by King Records. The sides were never issued and have been reissued for the first time, this year on the 2-CD Hollywood Blues on the JSP label. Houston's military service ended in December 1961 and he spent the rest of his Iife in various Californian communities, ending up in Lancaster, where he worked as a custodian at the California State Museum. He died of pulmonary disease on December 3, 1999. Houston's life story can be found in Blues & Rhythm magazine issue 215 written by Guido Van Rijn and Chris Smith.

Suffering from diabetes later in life, Jimmy Yancey and his wife held parties and jam sessions at their South Side Chicago apartment to raise money. Those sessions were well attended by Chicago jazz fans, and Yancey returned to the recording studio to make new records for the Paramount label in 1950 and his final for Atlantic in 1951 with his wife, Estelle Mama Yancey handling some of the vocal chores. He died on September 17, 1951. His final sides appeared on the album Chicago Piano Vol. 1.

The album Blues Piano:-Chicago, Plus featured sides by Little Brother Montgomery , Frank 'Sweet' Williams and Little Johnny Jones. In the 1950's there was sporadic recording activity, for Little Brother Montgomery even if there were few issued records to show for it at the time: a 1951 session for Atlantic with drummer Frank ‘Sweet’ Williams, two 1953 sides for JOB and two sessions in 1954 and 1956 only four tracks were issued, on a ten-inch LP on the Winding Ball label and five rare sides cut for the Chicago label, Ebony, in 1956. Frank 'Sweet' Williams was a minor Chicago blues musician who's only recordings were two songs cut for Atlantic in 1951 which remained unissued until the issued on the anthology Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus. It is assumed he was brought to the studio by Montgomery. He may be the uncredited drummer on Montgomery's session recorded on the same day. Meade Lux Lewis cut an album for Atlantic in 1951 titled Boogie-Woogie Interpretations with "Riff Boogie" reissued  on Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus.

Best known for his rock steady accompaniment in Elmore James’ band, Little Johnny Jones,  he also backed just about everyone else worth mentioning on the Chicago scene. The handful of times he stepped in front as leader produced a number of excellent sides and more than a few classics. Jones last official stint as leader came in 1953 when Atlantic Records came through Chicago and teamed Elmore and the Broomdusters behind Big Joe Turner resulting in the classic "TV Mama." Once again he recorded a couple of sides at the tail end of a session resulting in four songs: "Chicago Blues", 'Hoy Hoy', "Wait Baby" and "Doin' the Best I Can (Up the line)." Jones was backed by the full Broomdusters plus Ransom Knowling on bass.

Others heard from today include John Lee Hooker, Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles and Chuck Norris. Hooker recorded twelve sides for Atco Records in 1953 which was a  division of Atlantic Records. These sides were issued on the album Detroit Special in in 1972. Hooker is backed by Eddie Kirkland on this session.

In 1951, while performing with the Count Basie Orchestra at Harlem's Apollo Theater Big Joe Turner was spotted by Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegün, who signed him to Atlantic Records. Turner recorded a number of successes for them that climbed the R&B charts including "Chains of Love", "Sweet Sixteen, "Boogie Woogie Country Girl", "Honey Hush" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll." I first heard many of these sides on an excellent double album called Big Joe Turner: Rhythm & Blues Years.

John Lee Hooker: Guitar Lovin' ManIn 1950, Ray Charles' performance in a Miami hotel would impress Henry Stone, who went on to record a Ray Charles. After that he joined Swing Time Records, he recorded two more R&B hits under the name "Ray Charles": "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand" (1951), which reached number five; and "Kissa Me Baby"(1952), which reached number eight. Swing Time folded the following year, and Ahmet Ertegün signed him to Atlantic Records.

Chuck Norris worked in Chicago until the mid-'40s, when he moved out to the West Coast. He soon became one of the in-demand musicians in Hollywood backing artists such as Ray Agee, Charles Brown, Floyd Dixon, Roy Hawkins, Duke Henderson, Helen Humes, Etta James, Pete Johnson, Little Willie Littlefield, Percy Mayfield, Johnny Otis, Johnny Watson, Jimmy Witherspoon and many others. From time to time he did sessions on his own for labels like Atlantic, Mercury, Imperial, Aladdin and others between 1947 and 1953.

Oddenda & Such No. 15 by Pete Lowry (Blues & Rhythm no. 138, Apr1l, 1999)

Share
ARTISTSONGALBUM
Joe Morris Mad MoonJoe Morris 1946-1949
Tiny Grimes Quintet Boogie Woogie BarbecueTiny Grimes 1947-1950
Tiny Grimes Quintet w/ Red Prysock Nightmare BluesTiny Grimes 1947-1950
Joe Morris Jax BoogieJoe Morris 1946-1949
Sticks McGhee And His BuddiesLonesome Road BluesNew York Blues And R&B 1947-55
Sticks McGhee And His BuddiesTall Pretty WomanNew York Blues And R&B 1947-55
Ruth Brown Rain Is A BringdownRuth Brown 1949-1950
Sticks McGhee And His BuddiesDrinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-DeeNew York Blues And R&B 1947-55
Tiny Grimes Quintet Rock The HouseTiny Grimes 1947-1950
Texas Johnny Brown There Goes The BluesAtlantic Blues Guitar
Frank Floorshow Culley Floor Show (How 'Bout That Mess) The Big Horn: Honkin' And Screamin' Saxophone
Jimmie LewisMailman BluesJimmy ''Babyface'' Lewis 1947-1955
Ruth BrownRocking BluesRuth Brown 1949-1950
Ruth BrownHey Pretty BabyRuth Brown 1949-1950
Blind Willie McTellDying Crapshooter's Blues Atlanta Twelve String
Blind Willie McTellThe Razor BallAtlanta Twelve String
Blind Willie McTellLittle Delia Atlanta Twelve String
Blind Willie McTellAin't It Grand To Live a ChristianAtlanta Twelve String
Blind Willie McTellKill It Kid Atlanta Twelve String
Professor LonghairHey Now Baby Tipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairShe Walks Right InTipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairMardi Gras In New Orleans Tipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairProfessor Longhair BluesTipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairHey Little GirlTipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairLoghair Blues Rhumba Tipitina: 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Sticks McGheeHouse Warmin' BoogieNew York Blues And R&B 1947-55
Sticks McGheeShe's Gone New York Blues And R&B 1947-55
Joe Morris & Annie TateAnytime, Any Place, AnywhereJoe Morris 1950-1953
Joe Morris & Annie TateCome Back Daddy, DaddyJoe Morris 1950-1953
Jimmie LewisAll The Fun's On MeJimmy ''Babyface'' Lewis 1947-1955
Frank Floorshow Culley & Arlene Little Miss TalleyLittle Miss Blues78
Ruth BrownR.B. Blues Ruth Brown 1949-1950
Ruth BrownTeardrops from My Eyes Ruth Brown 1949-1950

Show Notes:

My two-part feature on Atlantic Records was partly inspired by a terrific reissue series that was originally issued in the early 1970's. In the early 70's Pete Lowry convinced Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertegun to reissue some classic and previously unissued blues from the vaults. The plan was to issue twelve albums although only six saw the light of day.I was first heard this series at my college radio station which luckily had the complete set and were much played. This was a great series featuring excellent recordings by Blind Willie McTell, Lawyer Houston, Professor Longhair, Little Brother Montgomery, Jimmy Yancey, T-Bone Walker and others. The albums had excellent liner notes and packaged with wonderful photos in a gatefold album. We feature a number of these recordings on the next two programs as well as a wealth of great recordings from Atlantic's, early years spanning their founding in 1947 through 1952.

Brothers Nesuhin and Ahmet Ertegu were ardent fans of jazz and rhythm & blues music, amassing a collection of over 15,000 78rpm records. Atlantic Records was incorporated in October 1947 and was run by Herb Abramson (President), who put up the initial investment,  and Ertegun (vice-president in charge of A&R, production and promotion) while Abramson's wife Miriam ran the label's publishing company. Atlantic's first batch of recordings were issued in late January 1948. Atlantic Records was never into recording the blues in a big way, unlike other independents. One reason was its New York location, as Ahmet Ertegun told Charlie Gillet:  "You just couldn't find blues singers in Harlem or   Washington. They were all in Chicago, Texas, New Orleans, so we realised we had to go down south, both to find new artists and record them." This wasn't exactly true, as other New York and New Jersey independents such as Savoy, De Luxe, Manor and Sittin' In With had  New  York~based  artists under contract. The first artists signed by Atlantic were New York-based artists with jazz backgrounds, such as Joe Morris and Tiny Grimes, although their singles were marketed as R&B.

Among the recordings Lowry got reissued and featured today are sides by Blind Willie McTell, and Professor Longhair. In 1949 a 15-song session by Blind Willie McTell was cut for the newly formed Atlantic Records. Only two songs, "Kill It Kid" and "Broke Down Engine Blues," were ever issued on a failed single, and the session was forgotten until almost 20 years later.  Longhair began to take his playing seriously in 1948, earning a gig at the Caldonia Club in New Orleans. He debuted on wax in 1949, laying down four tracks (including the first version of his signature "Mardi Gras in New Orleans") for the Dallas-based Star Talent label. Union problems forced those sides off the market, but Longhair's next date for Mercury the same year produced his first and only national R&B hit in 1950, the hilarious "Bald Head." The pianist made great records for Atlantic in 1949 and 1950-1951, Federal in 1951, Wasco in 1952, and Atlantic again in 1953 plus other scattered small label sides through the 50's. Thirteen of his Atlantic sides were issued on the album  Professor Longhair: New Orleans Piano.

Sticks McGhee

As Pete recalled in a column years later: "It must have been 1969 when both Mike Leadbitter and Simon Napier (Simon’s only trip. I do believe) came the US leaving Blues Unlimited temporarily without an editor! …Leads had an appointment to see Tunc Erim at the offices of Atlantic Records and I tagged along with the two of them (Simon & Mike) out of curiosity – I’d never been close to a big operation like that! We were permitted to look through the various file books for additions to the post-war discography (Leadbitter/Slaven) and were amazed at the information that could be gleaned. They were efficient. So I elected myself as a party of one to go back after that initial contact to do more detailed copying than could be done that first time. Photocopiers had not yet taken over and I used a pen and notebook to transcribe it all. In doing so, something else came to the surface – the realization that somehow some of this stuff ought to be heard. Actually, it was when I realized that there were thirteen unreleased sides by Blind Willie McTell that I became fixated on this idea. One LP wouldn’t do the trick… I had to work out some sort of package, including the McTell, and try and get it published/released."

Other early Atlantic artists featured today include Joe Morris, Tiny Grimes, Sticks McGhee, Ruth Brown, Frank Floorshow Culley, Jimmy "Baby Face" Lewis and Texas Johnny Brown. Joe Morris began his career as a jazz trumpet play but his legacy rests with his 1950s work as leader of R&B-oriented Joe Morris Orchestra. After working with Lionel Hampton, Morris signed with tAtlantic Records, and his "Anytime, Any Place, Anywhere" (with vocal by Laurie Tate) put the new record company on the map when it hit number one on the R&B charts in 1950. The Joe Morris Orchestra functioned as the unofficial house band for Atlantic in the early to mid-'50s, and several future Atlantic stars passed through its ranks, including Ray Charles and Lowell Fulson. In addition to working for Atlantic, Morris also recorded sides for Decca and Herald. He died in 1958.

In 1938, Tiny Grimes started playing electric guitar, and two years later he was playing in a popular jive group, the Cats and the Fiddle. During 1943-1944, Grimes was part of a classic Art Tatum Trio. In September 1944, he led his first record date, using Charlie Parker." He also recorded for Blue Note in 1946, and then put together an R&B-oriented group, the Rockin' Highlanders, that featured the tenor of Red Prysock during 1948-1952 where he recorded for Atlantic. Later sessions were for Prestige/Swingville, Black & Blue, Muse, and Sonet.

Sticks McGhee may have not been as prolific or celebrated as his brother Brownie, but guitarist Stick McGhee cut some great blues and R&B from 1947 to 1960. McGhee's Ruth Brownfirst recorded version of his classic  "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" for thes Harlem logo made little impression in 1947, but a 1949 remake for Atlantic (as Stick McGhee & His Buddies) proved a massive R&B hit. After one more smash for Atlantic in 1951's "he moved along to Essex, King, Savoy, and Herald before passing in 1960.

They called Atlantic Records "the house that Ruth built" during the 1950's. Ruth Brown's hitmaking reign from 1949 to the close of the '50s helped establish the label's predominance in the R&B field. Brown made her debut in May 1949, waxing t"So Long" which proved to be her first hit. After an even two-dozen R&B chart appearances for Atlantic that ended in 1960 she faded from view. Brown's nine-year ordeal to recoup her share of royalties from all those Atlantic platters led to the formation of the nonprofit Rhythm & Blues Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping others in the same frustrating situation. In 1993 Brown was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She passed in 2006.

Johnny Brown's career started in a band called the Aladdin Chickenshackers, who regularly backed Amos Milburn.He recorded with Milburn, and also backed Ruth Brown on her earliest cuts for Atlantic. Through this work, in 1949 although not issued at the time, Brown was able to record some tracks of his own for Atlantic. Brown's recording career continued in the mid 1950s, when he was utilized mainly as a sideman for both of the affiliated Duke and Peacock record labels. Brown toured as Bland's lead guitarist in the 1950s and 1960s.

Frank Culley formed his own R&B group in the mid-40s, recording for the Lenox label in NYC and backing Wynonie Harris on King. In 1948, he was signed by the fledgling Atlantic label and led its first house band, backing the early stars of R&B as well as recording some thirty tracks under his own name. After leaving Atlantic in 1951, Culley recorded for RCA Victor, Parrot, Chess and Baton without success.

Jimmy "Baby Face" Lewis cut nearly thirty sides between 1947 and 1955 for Aladdin, Atlantic, Savoy and other labels. Lewis was a fine smooth voced singer and excellent guitarist who's material  alternated between Charles Brown styled ballads and jump blues.His entire output has been issued on CD by Blue Moon as Jimmy Baby Face Lewis: Complete 1947-1955.

 

Share
ARTISTSONGALBUM
B.B. King LucilleLucille
B.B. King You Done Lost Your Good ThingMy Kind of Blues
B.B. King Walking Dr Bill My Kind of Blues
B.B. King Boogie Rock (aka House Rocker) The Soul Of B.B. King
B.B. King Night Life Blues Is King
B.B. King The JungleThe Jungle
B.B. King Don't Let It Shock You The Soul Of B.B. King
B.B. King My Own Fault My Kind of Blues
B.B. King Love, Honor and Obey The Soul Of B.B. King
B.B. King The Letter The Soul Of B.B. King
B.B. King Woke Up This Morning Singin' The Blues
B.B. King Woman I Love B.B. King Wails
B.B. King How Blue Can You Get?Live At The Regal
B.B. King When My Heart Beats Like A HammerThe Vintage Years
B.B. King Sweet Sixteen (Parts 1&2) The Vintage Years
B.B. King Sweet Little Angel Live At The Regal
B.B. King Why Does Everything Happen To MeThe Best of the Kent Singles
B.B. King That Ain't The Way To Do ItThe Vintage Years
B.B. King Baby Get Lost Blues Is King
B.B. King We Can't Make ItB.B. King Wails
B.B. King Gamblers Blues Blues Is King
B.B. King Shut Your Mouth More
B.B. King (Ain't That) Just Like a Woman More
B.B. King B.B. Boogie Ladies & Gentlemen ... Mr. B.B. King
B.B. KingSave A Seat For MeSings Spirituals

Show Notes:

The king of the blues, B.B. King, died on May 14th. My first blues album was B.B.'s Live At The Regal which I picked up for $3.99 at Tower Records in NYC. After that I started picking up those great reissue albums put out by Ace Records which collected his 50's sides. I'll be focusing on B.B.'s 50's and 60's sides today. Jazz 90.1 will honor B.B. King with a special 12 hour music vigil. Following my show, Jim McGrath (The Blues Spectrum), Derrick Lucas (The Soul Spectrum) and Paul Conley (Jazz Horizons) will all pay tribute to B.B. on their programs today beginning at 5 p.m. through Monday morning at 6 a.m. With the news of B.B.'s passing I did not have time to put together show notes.

B.B. King

Share
ARTISTSONGALBUM
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee My Baby Done Changed The Lock On The Door Newport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues 1959-1968
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee Long GoneNewport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues 1959-1968
Willie Thomas and Butch Cage 44 BluesThe Folk Music Of The Newport Folk Festival 1959-60 Vol. 1
John Lee Hooker TupeloNewport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues 1959-1968
John Lee Hooker Hobo BluesThe Newport Folk Festival 1960 Vol. 1
Mississippi Fred McDowellHighway 61The Blues at Newport 1964
Mississippi Fred McDowellIf The River Was Whiskey The Blues at Newport 1964
Sleepy John EstesDrop Down Mama Blues At Newport 1964
Robert Pete WilliamsOn My Way From TexasBlues At Newport 1964
Mississippi John HurtSliding DeltaBlues At Newport 1964
Mississippi John HurtTalking CaseyBlues At Newport 1964
Mississippi John HurtCoffee BluesNewport Folk Festival 1963: The Evening Concert Vol. 1
Skip James Going Back to the CountryDarling, Do You Remember Me?Going Back to the Country
Skip James Cypress Grove Blues Blues At Newport 1964
Skip James Devil Got My WomanBlues At Newport 1964
Lightnin' HopkinsBaby Please Don't GoLightnin' Hopkins At Newport
Wilie DossCoal Black Mare Blues At Newport 1964
Wilie DossHobo BluesBlues At Newport 1964
Son House Preaching Blues Blues With A Feeling
Son House Empire state Express Blues With A Feeling
Lafayette Leake & Willie DixonWrinklesBlues With A Feeling
Otis Spann Goodbye Newport BluesAt Newport 1960
Muddy WatersSoon Forgotten At Newport 1960
Muddy WatersI Got My Brand On YouAt Newport 1960
Robert Wilkins Don't You Let Nobody Turn You RoundBlues With A Feeling
Robert Wilkins The Prodigal SonThe Prodigal Son

Show Notes:

Mississippi John Hurt performs at the Newport Folk Festival in July, 1964

 

The Newport Folk Festival is an annual folk-oriented music festival in Newport, Rhode Island, which began in 1959 as a counterpart to the previously established Newport Jazz Festival. The Newport Folk Festival was founded in 1959 by George Wein, founder of the already-well-established Newport Jazz Festival, backed by its original board: Theodore Bikel, Oscar Brand, Pete Seeger and Albert Grossman. The festival in its initial guise ran from 1959 to 1970, with no festivals scheduled in 1961 or 1962. The festival was revived in 1985. The festival's beginning in 1959 parallel the blues revival period and all of the great rediscovered bluesman appeared at the festival. The first bluesmen to appear at the festival were Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee in 1959. Others who performed at Newport include Muddy Waters, who issued a live album of their 1960 performance, John Lee Hooker, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Rev. Robert Wilkins, Sleepy John Estes, Robert Pete Williams, Lightnin' Hopkins and many others. Today is part one of or look at the great blues performances of Newport in particular chronological order.

All of the great rediscovered bluesman performed at Newport; John Hurt was tracked down in Avalon, Mississippi, Bukka White in Aberdeen, Mississippi, Skip James was found in Mississippi's Tunica Hospital while Son House was residing in Rochester, New York. Eric Von Schmidt recalled the scene when Skip James took to the stage in his book Baby Let Me Follow You Down: "Skip sat down, and put his guitar on his leg. He set himself down, doing a little finger manipulation with his left hand, then he set his fingers by the sound hole. Sighed and hit the first note of I'd Rather Be the Devil Than Be That Woman's Man. He took that first note up in falsetto all the way, and the hairs on the neck went up, and all up and down my arms, the hairs just went right up. It's such an eerie note. It's almost a wail. It's a cry. There was an audible gasp from the audience."

Skip James recorded a legendary session for Paramount Records in 1931 then vanished for 33 years leaving no trail to follow. Just another blues man who had come and gone. He was tracked down and found in the Tunica, MS, hospital and then brought north to appear at the 964 Newport Folk Festival.

In Baby Let Me Follow You Down Schmidt recalled his memories of the festival: "I was listening to Mississippi John Hurt sing Spike Driver Blues. It was unreal, John Hurt was dead. Had to be. All the guys on that Harry Smith Anthology were dead. But there was no denying that the man singing so sweet and playing so beautifully was the John Hurt. He had a face – and what a face. He had a hat that he wore like a halo."

In 1963, a folk musicologist, Tom Hoskins, supervised by Richard Spottswood, was able to locate Hurt near Avalon, Mississippi. While in Avalon, Hoskins convinced Hurt to perform several songs for him, to ensure that he was genuine. Hoskins was convinced, and seeing that Hurt's guitar playing skills were still intact, Hoskins encouraged him to move to Washington, D.C., and begin performing on a wider stage. His performance at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival saw his star rise amongst the new folk revival audience.

 Skip James performs at the Newport Folk
Festival in July, 1964 (photo by Rick Staehling)

Robert Wilkins cut one of the great albums of the blues revival, Memphis Gospel Singer, recorded in 1964 for the Piedmont label but perhaps because he refused to play blues his part in the 60's revival is sometimes neglected. Wilkins hit the folk circuit, appearing at Newport in 1964 and the Memphis Country Blues Festival in 1966 and 1968. Even after the Rolling Stones covered "Prodigal Son" Wilkins steadfastly refused to play the blues. At the 1964 festival Wilkins delivered an epic nine minute version of "Prodigal Son", showing, that if anything, his playing was better than ever.

Other bluesmen weren't so much rediscovered as simply exposed; Mance Lipscomb was a gifted songster and slide guitarist who was born in 1895, who played at local functions around Navasota, Texas and did not make his debut recording until 1960. Lightin' Hopkins, another Texan had been recording since the 40's when he arrived at Newport. Mississippi McDowell was discovered by Alan Lomax in 1959 and recorded several albums before playing Newport in 1964. In 1956, Robert Pete Williams shot and killed a man in a local club and was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in  Angola prison. He served two years before being discovered by folklorists Dr. Harry Oster and Richard Allen. The pair recorded Williams performing several of his own songs and helped Williams receive a pardon in 1959. For the first five years after he left prison, Williams could only perform in Louisiana, but made several albums. In 1964, Williams played his first concert outside of Louisiana, at the Newport Folk Festival. The cuts recorded of Willie Doss at Newport in 1964 are the only recordings that were ever released of his music. Doss was born in Cleveland, Mississippi, but discovered living in Ashford, Alabama by folklorist Ralph Rinzler.

Successful urban bluesmen like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, faced with a diminishing market for blues in the black market, saw the festival as a way to attract a whole new audience. At Newport 1960 was released by Muddy Waters after his appearance. When Muddy’s band played the Newport Folk Festival in 1960, Otis Spann sang "Goodbye Newport Blues" which appeared on the subsequent live album. The song was written by poet Langston Hughes in response to a riot that happened at the festival the day before.

Performers were paid just $50 to appear at Newport, but careers were made on this main stage. Dick Waterman who became a booking agent and business adviser to many of the rediscovered bluesmen recalled: "It's important to remember that the record companies were well represented at the festival. You only had about fifteen minutes to play, but if you performed really well in those few minutes, as you turned from the microphone and left the stage, you just might be greeted by John Hammond of Columbia, or Maynard Solomon of Vanguard, or Jac Holzman of Elektra. There were no lawyers or middlemen involved. The guy who made the decision at the record company was there to make a deal."

 

 

Share

Next Page »