1950’s Blues

Elmore JamesIt Hurts Me TooVee-Jay: The Definitive Collection
Elmore JamesThe Twelve Year Old BoyKing Of The Slide Guitar
Elmore JamesComing Home King Of The Slide Guitar
Junior WellsTwo Headed Woman Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
G. DavyDid You Ever Love SomeoneBest Of Chief Records
Junior Wells Come On In This HouseMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Junior Wells Little By Little Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Lillian OffittWill My Man Be Home Tonight Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Lillian OffittOh MamaBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Junior WellsCalling All Blues Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Junior WellsMessing With The KidMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Elmore JamesKnocking At Your DoorKing Of The Slide Guitar
Earl HookerBlues In D NaturalBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Junior WellsI'm A StrangerMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Magic SamEvery Night About This Time Magic Sam: With a Feeling -The Cobra, Chief & Crash Recordings
Junior WellsSo TiredMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Junior WellsYou Sure Look Good To Me Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Earl HookerRockin' WildBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Junior Wellst Hurts Me Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Magic SamYou Don't Have To WorkMagic Sam: With a Feeling -The Cobra, Chief & Crash Recordings
Earl HookerThis Little Voice Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Ricky AllenRemember The Time Remember The Time
Ricky AllenYou'd Better Be SureRemember The Time
Earl HookerBlue Guitar Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Earl Hooker Swear To Tell The Truth Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Junior WellsPrison Bars All Around MeMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Elmore JamesCry For Me BabyKing Of The Slide Guitar
Ricky AllenOuch! Remember The Time
Ricky AllenCut You A-Loose Remember The Time
Earl Hooker That Man Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Jackie Brenston & Earl HookerWant You to Rock MeBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Earl Hooker The Leading BrandBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963

Show Notes:

Mel London (left) & Ricky Allen (right)

Melvin R. London was born in Mississippi on April 9, 1932. His initial interest in music led him to write R&B material, and he rapidly set up his own Melva Music  publishing firm. He began operations for Chief Records in 1957. In march of that year, twenty-five year old London was noted in the rhythm & blues trade press, which said "United Distrib's Mel London turned into a triple threat man with Chief's 'Man from The Island.' London penned the Calypso number, published it, and owns the label, not to mention he's the distributor's promotion man, too." They somehow failed to mention that he was the performer on the song as well. London set up Chief's offices at 1510W. Thirteenth St. in Chicago in April of 1957. Chief Records (together with its Profile and Age subsidiaries) was an independent record label that operated from 1957 to 1964. London served as producer and wrote several of the label's best-known songs.

In 1959 Earl Hooker teamed up with Junior Wells and producer Mel London. As Sebastian Danchin wrote in his superlative biography Earl Hooker – Blues Master: "The period between 1959 and 1963 was a productive one, both in terms of quality and quantity. Through Mel London, Hooker was involved in over a dozen recording sessions, and his playing was featured on some forty titles and twenty-five singles, a dozen of which were released under his own name, the rest being ascribed to Junior Wells, A.C. Reed, Lillian Offitt, and Ricky Allen." According to A.c. Reed "Hooker met London when I was on the road with Dennis Binder and 'em, because when I come back, he was already associated with Mel London and he got me into recordin' with Mel London. It was a studio band 'cause we's about the best musicians he had to record behind peoples. Everybody played on everybody's record. Anybody that would record, we'd play on it."

As Danchin wrote: "Earl didn't have a one-way relationship with London; his superlative guitar contributions played their role in the development of London's business, but at the same time it was through London that Hooker was able to bequeath future generations a testimony to his highly creative genius, in the form of blues classics like "Blue Guitar", "Blues in D Natural", "Little By Little", "Messin' With The Kid",  and "Will My Man Be Home Tonight."

In 1957, Junior Wells hooked up with producer Mel London, who owned the Chief and Profile logos. Wells was one of London's favorite blues artists. Wells hooked up with Earl Hooker after his last label,United/States, folded in 1957 and after his previous guitarist, Syl Johnson had left. The association resulted in many of Wells' most enduring sides, including "I Could Cry" and the rock & rolling "Lovey Dovey Lovely One" in 1957, the grinding national R&B hit "Little by Little" (with Willie Dixon providing vocal harmony) in 1959, and the R&B-laced classic "Messin' with the Kid" in 1960 (sporting Earl Hooker's immaculate guitar work). Wells' harp was de-emphasized during this period on record in favor of his animated vocals.“Little By Little' became a national hit, peaking at #23 on the R&B Billboard charts. The flip, “Come On In This House” also became a hit, played extensively on black radio stations in Chicago. Wells would continue to perform and record several of his Chief and Profile songs ("Messin' with the Kid," "Come on in This House," and "It Hurts Me Too") during his career.

Billboard Jan 23, 1961 Ad

1960-1961 was a high water point for the collaboration between Hooker and Wells with the two waxing some impressive material including "Calling All Blues", "Messin' With The Kid", "I'm A Stranger and "The Things I'd For You" among others. "Cut You Loose," another London composition, was a hit for Ricky Allen; the song reached #20 in 1963. Next to Wells, Allen had the most singles on the label (all on Age). A native of Nashville, Ricky Allen was influenced by Earl Gaines and Larry Birdsong before relocating to Chicago in 1960. There, he promptly became a part of Earl Hooker's musical circle, joining him on the roster of Mel London's Age imprint. Allen's local popularity was reflected in frequent visits to the recording studio – he cut over forty titles for labels including Age, USA, 4 Brothers, and Bright Star. Allen cut several local and national hits like "You Better Be Sure", "Ouch!" and "Cut You A Loose" which hit #20 on the R&B charts and #126 on the pop charts. After disbanding his band in the early 70's he drifted off into blues obscurity.

Chief was plagued by financial problems. First to be discontinued were the Chief and Profile labels; finally the Age label was discontinued in 1964 and the company went out of business. During its seven years of operation, Chief/Profile/Age released about eighty singles (including reissues) from approximately thirty-seven artists. Later, various singles (including reissues) by Chief artists would be released by All-Points Records, Mel/Mel-Lon Records, Bright Star Records, and Starville Records, but none had the impact of the originals.

By 1963 London had a role with the U.S.A. label, possibly as a producer. by the end of the decade he was working a s shipping clerk for United Record Distributors. Neil Slaven noted that London "most of the time drove a delivery truck. He was by no means bitter about this situation and retained fond memories of the artists he'd recorded and the record he'd made." In the early 70's London had some plans to reissue his earlier material but no longer had the original masters. London said in a 1973 interview: "hell, I never though there'd be a call for that stuff." London died of cancer in May 1975 at the age of forty-three.

The Chief label boasted a catalog of forty-one singles, the last one being reissues of items released at an earlier stage. Chief was an eclectic label that included efforts by pop and rockabilly artists, yet its best selling issues-with the exception of a minor rock 'n' roll hit by Tobin Matthews-were blues numbers featuring Earl Hooker's inventive playing. The liking that  that London took to Hooker's playing soon prompted him to use him as his "house" guitarist, using his band every time he set up and R&B session. However he never trusted Hooker's singing, never once issuing a vocal by him. Advertised in Cash Box from April 14, 1962, "Blue Guitar", was a record sold usually well for an instrumental blues side. Before the Spring was over, every band in the Chicago blues belt included the song in their repertoire. The song was then used as the instrumental backing to Muddy Waters' "You Shook Me."

To record, Mel London used Chicago's finest studio, Universal Recording. As Big Moose Walker noted "Somethin' like twenty years ago, that was the best studio in the city. …I'd say like nine or ten o'clock at night, we'd be done through by twelve, it depend on on how many we'd be cuttin'.  …Sometimes we go in there, I would do somethin' like one, and then maybe RickyAllen would do one, and maybe he might have junior Wells doin' one."

London was also running the Profile label at the same time which also folded around the same time. Chief was aimed at the R&B market while Profile aimed more towards pop. That same year London formed his Age label. The Age label issued twenty-five singles through 1964 by Ricky Allen, Earl Hooker and A.C. Reed among others while Profile issued fifteen singles.

London recorded five titles at his initial session with Elmore James. "Knocking At Your Door" was not released at the time because London had nothing to pair it with. Elmore was called back to the studio by London in the Fall, cutting "Cry For Me Baby" b/w "Take Me where You Go"featuring Syl Johnson on lead guitar. The number were released in December and reissued almost immediately on Vee-Jay. All in all, James cut seven sides for chief. James was among the first signed to the label, entering the studio in April, 1957. “The Twelve Year Old Boy” and “Coming Home” were the first songs recorded. These songs were paired for issue as Chief's second release. The single was distributed by bigger independent, Vee-Jay who also reissued the single on its own label. The next release was 'It Hurts Me Too” which Elmore had cut twice before and was originally recorded by Tampa Red in 1941.

Lillian Offit made her debut cutting a handful of sides for Excello in 1957 and 1958. By 1959 she was in Chicago where she teamed up with Earl Hooker. The group went in the studio in February 1959. “Will My Man Be Home Tonight” became one of Chief's best sellers and a local hit in Chicago. The group recorded again in May of the same year.

Other blues artists who cut sides for London included Magic Sam who cut eight sides for Chief across three sessions in 1960 and 1961, G. "Davy" Crockett and Hooker associates A.C. Reed, Big Moose Walker and Jackie Brenston of "Rocket 88" fame who fronts Hooker's band Want "You To Rock Me" b/w "Down In My Heart.".

Mississippi Fred McDowell St. Louis BluesFirst Recordings
Mississippi Fred McDowell Going Down the RiverFirst Recordings
Mississippi Fred McDowell Frisco Line You Got To Move
Robert Pete WilliamsSome Got Six Months I'm Blue As a Man Can Be
Robert Pete WilliamsWhen a Man Takes the Blues When a Man Takes the Blues
Robert Pete WilliamsPardon Denied AgainI'm Blue As a Man Can Be
Jesse Fuller Just Like a Ship on the Deep Blue SeaFrisco Bound
Jesse Fuller Cincinnati BluesFrisco Bound
Jesse Fuller 99 YearsJazz, Folk Songs, Spirituals & Blues
Mance LipscombSugar Babe (It's All Over Now)Texas Songster
Mance LipscombFreddieTexas Songster
Mance LipscombBig Boss ManTexas Songster
Mississippi Fred McDowell Trouble Everywhere I Go Mississippi Fred McDowell,
Mississippi Fred McDowell Good Morning, Little School I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll
Mississippi Fred McDowell Shake 'em On Down Mama Says I'm Crazy
Robert Pete Williams Just Tippin' inI'm Blue As a Man Can Be
Robert Pete Williams I've Grown So UglyFree Again
Jesse Fuller Raise A Ruckus Jazz, Folk Songs, Spirituals & Bluess
Jesse Fuller San Francisco Bay BluesSan Francisco Bay Blues
Mississippi Fred McDowell Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning Mississippi Delta Blues Jam In Memphis Vol. 1
Mississippi Fred McDowell You Got To MoveYou Got To Move
Mississippi Fred McDowell Write Me A Few LinesYou Got To Move
Mance LipscombJack O' Diamonds Texas Songster
Mance LipscombCaptain, Captain Captain, Captain
Robert Pete WilliamsI'm Going to Have Myself a Ball Legacy of the Blues, Vol. 9
Jesse Fuller John HenrySan Francisco Bay Blues
Mance LipscombTom Moore BluesTexas Songster Vol. 4: Live! At The Cabale

Show Notes:

Around 1960 a considerable interest for all folk sources for American music evolved among students in the Northeast, and soon spread to the whole country. The blues revival doesn’t refer to the rebirth of the music, the blues never went away, and certainly the electric brand of blues was still popular in urban centers like Chicago, but a new found interest in the music among young white listeners. In a addition there was a small band of enthusiasts who began to collect what information they could on the blues artists of the past. Writers like Samuel Charters and Paul Oliver wrote serious studies of the blues while other like Chris Strachwitz and John Fahey formed labels and tracked down these older blues artists. In addition several down-home artists who had not previously recorded were brought to light, most importantly Mance Lipscomb, Fred McDowell, Robert Pete Williams and Jesse Fuller. Unlike those who recorded back in the 1920's and 30's for the commercial record companies and black consumers, those who recorded in the 1960's and 70's were being recorded primarily for a new found white audience, with the records issued usually on tiny specialist labels. Men like George Mitchell, Davis Evans and Sam Charters undertook a different mission. They made field recordings during this era were a sort of a parallel undercurrent to the more famous artists. What they recorded in the rural communities of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi in the 1960’s was a still thriving, if largely undocumented, blues culture.

Fred McDowell was born in 1904 in Rossville, TN, and was playing the guitar by the age of 14 with a slide hollowed out of a steer bone. His parents died when Fred was a youngster and the wandering life of a traveling musician soon took hold. The 1920s saw him playing for tips on the street around Memphis, TN, the hoboing life eventually setting him down in Como, MS, where he lived the rest of his life. There McDowell split his time between farming and keeping up with his music by playing weekends for various fish fries, picnics, and house parties in the immediate area. This pattern stayed largely unchanged for the next 30 years until he was discovered in 1959 by folklorist Alan Lomax. Lomax set the scene in his The Land Where The Blues Again: "Fred was a quiet, sulky-voiced stoop-shouldered fellow, eager to record. That very evening he invited in a couple of neighbors to help out-one man to play second guitar, and his aunt, Fannie Davis, to provided the wind section by blowing on a fine-toothed comb wrapped in toilet paper. We recorded outdoors after dark, by flashlight. No wind was blowing, and the katydids were out of season, so we could take advantage of the living quiet of open air and the natural resonance of the earth and the trees. The mixer and the stereo had room for this multidimensional sound, with one mike for Fred's voice, one for his picking and its backup, and one for his aunt's humming and wheezing through the comb. The sound we captured made us all deliriously happy. …When we played his recording back to him, he stomped up and down on the porch, whooping and laughing and hugging his wife. He knew he had been heard and felt his fortune had been made."

The results of those first recordings were released as part of an American folk music series on the Atlantic label. McDowell, for his part, was happy to have some sounds on records, but continued on with his farming and playing for tips outside of Stuckey's candy store in Como for spare change. It wasn't until Chris Strachwitz, folk-blues enthusiast and owner of the fledgling Arhoolie label, came searching for McDowell to record him that the bluesman's fortunes began to change dramatically. Two albums, Fred McDowell Vol. 1 & Vol. 2, were released on Arhoolie in the mid-'60s which caused a huge stir among the blues revival scene. The success of the Arhoolie recordings suddenly found McDowell very much in demand on the folk and festival circuit, Working everything from the Newport Folk Festival to coffeehouse dates to becoming a member of the American Folk Blues Festival in Europe. McDowell was well documented on film, and by the end of the decade, he was signed to do a one-off album for Capitol Records (I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll) and his tunes were being mainstreamed into blues-rock by artists like Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones. Unfortunately McDowell was diagnosed with cancer while performing dates into 1971. His playing days suddenly behind him, he lingered for a few months into July 1972, finally succumbing to the disease at age 68.

Robert Pete Williams did some playing at house parties in the 30’s. In 1956, Williams shot and killed a man in a local club. Williams claimed the act was in self-defense, but he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was sent to Angola prison, where he served for two years before being discovered by Oster and Richard Allen. The pair recorded Williams performing several of his own songs, which were all about life in prison.Williams' first recording appeared on the anthology Angola Prisoners' Blues in 1959 and was issued by the Louisiana Folklore Society. Impressed with the guitarist’s talents, Oster and Allen pleaded for a pardon for Williams. The pardon was granted in 1959, after he had served a total of three and a half years. For the first five years after he left prison, Williams could only perform in Louisiana, but his recordings — which appeared on Folk-Lyric, Arhoolie, and Prestige, among other labels — were popular and he received positive word of mouth reviews. In 1964, Williams played his first concert outside of Louisiana — it was a set at the legendary Newport Folk Festival. Williams’ performance was enthusiastically received and he began touring the United States, often playing shows with Mississippi Fred McDowell. During the 60’s and 70’s he performed at several festival including the 1966 American Folk Blues Festival. He passed in 1980.

The almost free-form blues of Robert Pete Williams is quite different from the blues of his contemporaries as Tony Russell notes: "The typical Williams piece is a reflective blues underpinned by hypnotically repetitive guitar figures, generally in a modal structure. Sometimes  his source of inspiration fills him with a tense, nervous excitability, which which he acts out in frantic boogie playing. At other tomes he deserts the conventions of blues or boogie woogie and spins long free-form narratives or soliloquies." Peter Gurlanick wrote about seeing him for the first time in his book  Feel Like Going Home: "…It was difficult to approve the banalities of most blues singers after listening to Robert Pete Williams. More than anyone else, he shatters the conventions of the form and refuses to rely on any of the cliches, wither of music or of lyric, which bluesmen after bluesmen will invoke.

Born and raised in Georgia, Jesse Fuller began playing guitar when he was a child, although he didn't pursue the instrument seriously. In his early twenties, Fuller wandered around the southern and western regions of the United States, eventually settling down in Los Angeles. After spending a few years in Los Angeles, Fuller moved to San Francisco. While he worked various odd jobs around the Bay Area, he played on street corners and parties. Fuller's musical career didn't properly begin until the early '50s, when he decided to become a professional musician;  he was 55 years old at the time. Performing as a one-man band, he began to get spots on local television shows and nightclubs. However, Fuller's career didn't take off until 1954, when he wrote "San Francisco Bay Blues."The song was recorded by Rambling Jack Elliot who said in his opening monologue: "Oakland is right across the bay from San Francisco .That's where Jesse Fuller lives. Jesse Fuller plays the 12-string guitar. A livin' Leadbelly. Guitar and harmonica too. Electric. Also has a kinda 5-string …bass-like thing on the floor, that he plays with his foot. Called a foot-doola. And Jesse wrote this song. And I'll sing it to ya now, 'cause I sing it all day long."

The song helped him land a record contract with the independent Cavalier label, and in 1955 he recorded his first album, Folk Blues: Working on the Railroad with Jesse Fuller. The album was a success and soon he was making records for a variety of labels, including Good Time Jazz and Prestige.In the late '50s and early '60s Jesse Fuller became one of the key figures of the blues revival, helping bring the music to a new, younger audience. Throughout the '60s and '70s he toured America and Europe, appearing at numerous blues and folk festivals, as well as countless coffeehouse gigs across the U.S. Fuller continued performing and recording until his death in 1976.

Mance Lipscomb was born in Navasota, Texas, northwest of Houston, on April 9, 1895. Music ran in Lipscomb's family, and after his mother bought him a guitar when he was 11, he began accompanying his fiddler father at local dances. Before long, Lipscomb was in demand for "Saturday Night Suppers" in and around Grimes County, Texas. In addition to his family, Lipscomb picked up musical pointers from Texas blues singer Blind Lemon Jefferson. A traveling performer asked Lipscomb to go on tour in 1922, but Lipscomb said no, and until the 1960s he rarely left the area in which he was born. He worked as a tenant farmer (he disliked the term "sharecropper") for various employers, and most of his musical appearances were at local functions. One day in 1960 encountered music researchers Chris Strachwitz and Mack McCormick on a job site. They were looking for "Lightnin'" Hopkins, who had just left the area, but they agreed to listen to Lipscomb's music instead. Strachwitz was in the process of forming his California-based record company, Arhoolie, and a group of songs recorded around Lipscomb's kitchen table were put together on the album Mance Lipscomb: Texas Songster and Sharecropper, Arhoolie's debut release. Lipscomb's name quickly became well known among blues and folk music fans. He appeared at the Texas Heritage Festival in Houston in 1960 and 1961, then capitalized on his California connection and made appearances for three years running (1961-63) at the large Berkeley Folk Festival held at the University of California. In between festival appearances he appeared at folk coffeehouses in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, and he made several more recordings for Arhoolie.

What made Lipscomb stand out from the other Southern blues performers recorded during this period was the diversity of his repertory. As Paul Oliver wrote: "he was, and is, a 'songster'; in other words he did not restrict himself to a particular idiom as many blues singers have done but, coming from a generation of musicians who prided themselves on their versatility, embraced many forms, of which the blues was just one. Mance's life spans the history of the blues and the formative years of his musical development are well rooted the older traditions. At this point in time it is important to realize that this seventy-year young man is a living embodiment, and genuinely one of the last great exponents of the Southern Negro folk song forms before the blues, and the mass media which popularized it, swept them aside." His recordings provided examples of song and dance forms with both white and black roots–waltzes, two-steps, children's songs, jigs, reels, polkas and other styles. In the late 1960s, as interest in the blues mounted, Lipscomb experienced still greater success. He appeared at the Festival of American Folklife, held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1968 and 1970, and he performed at other large festivals, including the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1970 and the Monterey Jazz Festival in California in 1973. Among the many musicians who became Lipscomb fans was vocalist Frank Sinatra, who issued a Lipscomb recording, Trouble in Mind, on his Reprise label in 1970. He appeared that year in Les Blank's film and two years later was featured in a French blues documentary, Out of the Blacks Into the Blues. Lipscomb suffered from heart trouble in the mid-1970s and gradually retired from the stage. He passed in 1976.

Champion Jack DupreeJunker's BluesJunker's Blues
Champion Jack DupreeCabbage GreensJunker's Blues
Roy BrownJudgment Day BluesRoy Brown & New Orleans R & B
Roy BrownWhose Hat Is ThatRoy Brown & New Orleans R & B
Roy BrownMighty, Mighty Man Roy Brown & New Orleans R & B
Cousin JoeIt's Dangerous To Be A HusbandCousin Joe 1945-1947 Vol. 2
Cousin JoeLittle Woman BluesCousin Joe 1945-1947 Vol. 2
Paul Gayten & Annie LaurieAnnie's BluesCreole Gal
Paul GaytenYour Hands Ain't Clean Creole Gal
Joe "Mr. Google Eyes" August Rough And Rocky RoadThe Very Best Of
Joe "Mr. Google Eyes" August Young BoyThe Very Best Of
Dave Bartholomew Mr. Fool Roy Brown & New Orleans R & B
Dave Bartholomew Country Boy Roy Brown & New Orleans R & B
Dave Bartholomew She's Got Great Big EyesRoy Brown & New Orleans R & B
Professor LonghairProfessor Longhair BluesRoy Brown & New Orleans R & B
Professor LonghairHey! Now BabyRoy Brown & New Orleans R & B
Professor LonghairMardi Gras In New OrleansRoy Brown & New Orleans R & B
Larry Darnell For You My LoveLarry Darnell 1949-1951
Larry Darnell Pack Your Rags And Go Larry Darnell 1949-1951
Jewel King3 x 7 = 21The Spirit Of New Orleans
Tommy RidgleyShrewsbury Blues The Spirit Of New Orleans
Fats DominoThe Fat Man Crescent City Soul: The Sound Of New Orleans
Little Mr. MidnightGot A Brand New Baby Crescent City Bounce
Chubby "Hip Shakin"' NewsomeHard-Lovin' Mama Jump 'N' Shout (New Orleans Blues & Rhythm)
Big Joe TurnerThe Blues Jumped Over the Rabbit The Spirit of New Orleans
Alma Mondy (Alma Lollypop)Streetwalkin' DaddyMercury Records: The New Orleans Sessions
Little Joe Gaines She Won't Leave No More Mercury Records: The New Orleans Sessions
George Miller & His Mid-DriffsBat-Lee swingMercury Records: The New Orleans Sessions
Dave BartholomewAin't Gonna Do It Ain't Gonna Do It
Dave BartholomewThat's How You Got Killed, Before Ain't Gonna Do It
Dave BartholomewGood Jax BoogieRoy Brown & New Orleans R & B
Professor LonghairByrd's BluesRoy Brown & New Orleans R & B
Professor LonghairHadacol BounceRoy Brown & New Orleans R & B
Professor LonghairBetween Midnight & DayRoy Brown & New Orleans R & B

Show notes:

With the exception of two sides by Champion Jack Dupree, today's show really starts in the post-war era when the city's first blues and R&B singers started getting on record. The New Orleans pre-war blues scene was not well documented on record outside of early performers like Richard "Rabbit" Brown, Lizzie Miles and Blu Lu Barker. As Neil Slaven writes about the city's history: "New Orleans has always been a music city. Most would have it jazz was its most significant invention, formed around the dawn of the twentieth century and passed on to the rest of America and the world thereafter. Some, perhaps with a little less fervor, point to the city's long blues traditions and the explosion of rhythm and blues in the 1950's. In fact the two are inextricably bound together, branches of the same tree, sharing sharing a common ancestry that laid down some of its roots at the turn of the nineteenth century …Such was the impact of jazz over the next decades, that blues progressed unseen in the salons of a thriving bordello district for the entertainment, but not distraction, of whores and their clients. When they weren't dispensing refinement, pianists would gather at dives like Tudlom's Tonk, where rolling the horses, which was what boogie woogie called for its repetition and prancing tempos, was the coming thing. Most of the tonks, cribs and barrel houses were located in what was called the Battlefield, and over the years, that's where you'd find Drive 'Em Down (Willie Hall) who taught Jack Dupree, Joseph 'Red' Cayou, Tuts Washington, Fats Pichon, Udell Wilson and Joe Robichaux, known as Joe Daggers." It's that heritage behind today's featured piano players.

Even in the 1940's the scene was dominated by jazz and dixieland bands like Kid Thomas, Billie and De De Pierce, George Lewis and John Handy. During the 1940's and into the 1950s a distinctly New Orleans approach to blues and R&B emerged. Usually piano-driven and backed by inventive rhythms that showed the marked influence of second-line marching and brass bands, New Orleans blues and R&B developed a rolling, joyous feel that captured the rollicking feel of the city. As author John Broven writes: "The freewheeling, happy-go-lucky music is known as the New Orleans Sound, which has its roots in the original beat of the old parade bands of the nineteenth century. Whether it's rhythm and blues, rock 'n' roll, soul or modern jazz, the parade beat is the ubiquitous common factor, the foundation, if you like." And as record producer Marshall Sehorn said: 'This is the home of the second line, that extra syncopated beat that has been in existence ever since the first black man picked upa tambourine."

There's a distinct emphasis on the piano blues, particularly in the formative years of the New Orleans blues scene of the 40's. Three figures dominated, and set the tone for, New Orleans rhythm and blues in the 1940s: Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, and Dave Bartholomew. Fats Domino will play a larger role in our second New Orleans installment but we play two sets apiece by Longhair and Bartholomew. Other pianists heard today include Champion Jack Dupree and Paul Gayten plus a slew of talented singers, most famously Roy Brown, Cousin Joe and Larry Darnell plus a batch of fine little remembered figures from the Crescent City's past.

We open the show with two sides by Champion Jack Dupree from 1940 and 1941. Dupree grew up in New Orleans' Colored Waifs' Home for Boys (Louis Armstrong also spent his formative years there). Learning his trade from barrelhouse 88s ace Willie "Drive 'em Down" Hall, Dupree left the Crescent City in 1930 for Chicago and then Detroit. By 1935, he was boxing professionally in Indianapolis, battling in an estimated 107 bouts. In 1940, Dupree made his recording debut for Chicago A&R man Lester Melrose and OKeh Records. Dupree's 1940-1941 output for the Columbia subsidiary exhibited a strong New Orleans tinge despite the Chicago surroundings; his driving "Junker's Blues" was later cleaned up as Fats Domino's 1949 debut, "The Fat Man."

Born in the Crescent City, Roy Brown grew up all over the place: Eunice, LA (where he sang in church and worked in the sugarcane fields); Houston, TX; and finally Los Angeles by age 17. His seminal 1947 DeLuxe Records waxing of "Good Rockin' Tonight" was immediately ridden to the peak of the R&B charts by shouter Wynonie Harris and subsequently covered by Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, and many more early rock icons. Roy Brown didn't have to wait long to dominate the R&B lists himself. He scored 15 hits from mid-1948 to late 1951 for DeLuxe.

Growing up in New Orleans, Cousin Joe began singing in church before crossing over to the blues. Guitar and ukulele were his first axes. He eventually prioritized the piano instead, playing Crescent City clubs and riverboats. He moved to New York in 1942, gaining entry into the city's thriving jazz scene (where he played with Dizzy Gillespie, Sidney Bechet, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, and a host of other luminaries). He recorded for King, Gotham, Philo (in 1945), Savoy, and Decca along the way, doing well on the latter logo with "Box Car Shorty and Peter Blue" in 1947. After returning to New Orleans in 1948, he recorded for DeLuxe and cut a two-part "ABCs" for Imperial in 1954 as Smilin' Joe under Dave Bartholomew's supervision. But by then, his recording career had faded. For today's program we spin two tracks,"It's Dangerous To Be A Husband" and "Little Woman Blues",  from the only session from the period that was actually recorded in New Orleans.

Paul Gayten, a seminal figure in New Orleans rhythm & blues, led a varied career in the music business as a bandleader, producer, label owner, and one-time overseer of the West Coast operation of Chess Records. A nephew of blues-piano legend Little Brother Montgomery, Gayten once led one of the top bands of New Orleans, but he gave up the performing life in 1956 to turn his attention to production and eventually to his own California-based Pzazz label. Gayten wrote Larry Darnell's 1949 classic "For You My Love" and recorded a few Top Ten hits of his own for Regal and DeLuxe (1947-1950), some of them with vocalist Annie Laurie who shines on our selection, "Annie's Blues."

Joe "Mr. Google Eyes" August was born Joseph Augustus on September 13, 1931, and gained his formative musical experience as a member of the First Emmanuel Baptist Church choir, but found himself most deeply attracted to the blues. He eventually earned a steady gig at the local Downbeat Club, appearing opposite Roy Brown.Although Brown, Paul Gayten, and Annie Laurie were the first New Orleans R&B artists to enter the recording studio, Augustus was not far behind, making his debut for the black-owned Coleman Records with 1946's "Poppa Stoppa's Be-Bop Blues"; he was still just 15 years old at the time, and accordingly the label proclaimed him "Mr. Google Eyes — the world's youngest blues singer."His contract was then bought out by Columbia. The twenty track collection, The Very Best, is well worth tracking down.

Working in his hometown of New Orleans, Dave Bartholomew helped develop and define the sound of rhythm & blues in the late 40's and 50's. He was a bandleader, trumpet player, songwriter, producer, arranger, talent scout, businessman, and more. Although he never made the pop charts under his own name, Bartholomew was a key figure in the transition from jump blues and big-band swing to rhythm & blues and rock and roll. Bartholomew is most famous for having discovered and produced Fats Domino, with whom he produced and wrote songs for through the 50's and beyond. But he’s worked with a who’s-who of New Orleans R&B figures: Smiley Lewis, Lloyd Price, Shirley & Lee, Earl King, Roy Brown, Huey “”Piano”” Smith, Chris Kenner, Robert Parker, Frankie Ford, James Booker, Jewel King, James “”Sugar Boy”” Crawford, Tommy Ridgley and more. Bartholomew may be more well known for the famous artists he worked with but also prolifically under his own name between 1947and the early 60's, laying down and impressive body of work for a several different labels like DeLuxe, Imperial and King, almost all recorded in his hometown of New Orleans. His records featured the cream of New Orleans musicians like Earl Palmer, Ernest McClean, Edgar Blanchard, Lee Allen, Alvin “Red” Tyler, Frank Fields and others.

Professor Longhair grew up on the streets of New Orleans, tap dancing for tips on Bourbon Street with his running partners. Local 88s aces Sullivan Rock, Kid Stormy Weather, and Tuts Washington were early influences. Longhair began to take his playing seriously in 1948, earning a gig at the Caldonia Club. Longhair 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, Federal in 1951, Wasco in 1952, and Atlantic again in 1953 plus other scattered small label sides through the 50's.

Larry Darnell was born in Columbus, OH and achieved local fame as a gospel singer the age of 11.When he was 15 he left home to tour as a dancerwith a burlesque road show. When company funds were low, Darnell did not hesitate when offered a steady gig in New Orleans as a singer at the famous Dew Drop Inn. He stayed on for several years, and gradually developing a persona that began to attract quite a following. One night in 1949 Darnell's act was caught by Fred Mendelsohn, co-founder and A&R director for the Regal record label. Mendelsohn, later recalled: "Darnell was doing a song called 'I'll Get Along Somehow' originally popularized by Andy Kirk. He added a recitation that sent the dames screaming and hollering." Darnell was hired on the spot and whisked up to Newark where three titles were cut in early September 1949 and issued on 78-rpm records bearing the Regal label. Presented in two parts, "I'll Get Along Somehow" made it to number two on the Billboard R&B chart not long after "For You My Love" hit number one, staying up there for eight weeks.

Texas-born R&B singer Jewel King moved to New Orleans in the mid-forties. By 1948 she began to make a name for herself as she worked many local clubs like the Club Rocket, the Club Desire and the Dew Drop. In that year she had her first recording session, for DeLuxe Records, but these tracks ("Go Now" and "Passion Blues") were never issued. Her next visit to a recording studio (Cosimo's, the only studio in New Orleans) took place on November 29, 1949. This was the first session that Dave Bartholomew produced for Imperial. It was a split session with Tommy Ridgley, who recorded "Shrewsbury Blues" (Imperial 5054), his very first single. One song from the session, "3 x 7 = 21", was released in January 1950 and climbed to # 4 on the R&B charts. Fats Domino's "The Fat Man" also charted at this time and Imperial honcho Lew Chudd set up a national tour for the two acts, with King headlining. At the last minute, Jewel bailed out because her husband /bandleader (Jack Scott) refused to let her tour without his band. Bartholomew told her she was making a big mistake and left without her, with Tommy Ridgley as a replacement.

Dave Bartholomew

Chubby Newsome was originally from Detroit but found recognition in New Orleans where she was a regular performer in the late 1940s. She was discovered by Paul Gayten at the famous Dew Drop Inn. She was soon signed to the DeLuxe label where she recorded her signature tune "Hip Shakin' Mama", and also "He May Be Your Man" with Gayten's band. Newsome signed with Regal in 1949 cutting several serssions for the label in the early 50's.

The Mercury label cut some fine sessions in New Orleans between 19490 and 1953. The sessions began with William B. Allen, who owned a radio supply store at Orleans and North Robertson streets and also distributed Mercury records in New Orleans. In late 1949 Allen talked to Mercury’s main office about recording black artists in New Orleans. Among those recorded were Professor Longhair, Alma Monday, Little Joe Gaines, George Miller & His Mid-Driffs, Ray Johnson and Herbert ‘Woo Woo’ Moore among others.

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.

Chuck Norris What's Good For One's Good For All Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Chuck Norris Kinda Sick Mostly Worried Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Dinah Washington Fine Fine Daddy Complete Dinah Washington On Mercury Vol. 2
Johnny Otis Orchestra Doggin' Blues Midnight At The Barrelhouse
Alma Mondy Baby Get Wise Mercury Records: The New Orleans Sessions 1950 - 1953
Professor Longhair Been Foolin' Around Mercury Records: The New Orleans Sessions 1950 - 1953
George Miller & His Mid-Driffs Bat-Lee Swing Mercury Records: The New Orleans Sessions 1950 - 1953
Memphis Slim Train Is Comin’ Long Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Memphis Slim No Mail Blues Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Big Bill Broonzy Willie Mae Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Big Bill Broonzy South Bound Train Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Big Bill Broonzy Get Back (Black Brown And White) Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Robert Lockwood & Sunnyland Slim Glory For Man Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Robert Lockwood & Sunnyland Slim My Daily Wish Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Robert Lockwood & Sunnyland Slim (I'm Gonna) Dig Myself A Hole Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Sunnyland Slim Brown Skinned Woman Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Sunnyland Slim Hit The Road Again Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Luther Stoneham Sittin' Here Wonderin' Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Elmore Nixon Playboy Blues Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Lee GravesI'm From Texas Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Lightnin' Hopkins Sad News From Korea Complete Dinah Washington On Mercury Vol. 1
Lightnin' Hopkins She's Almost Dead Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Lightnin' Hopkins Gone With The Wind Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
John Hogg Got A Mean Woman Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Smokey Hogg She's Always On My Mind Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Smokey Hogg Dirty Mistreater Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
L.C. Williams I Don’t Like To Travel Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
J.D, Edwards West Coast LoverMercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Violet Hall Six Foot Papa (I'm A Whole Lot Of Woman) Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Ike Lloyd Boogie On The 88 Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Johnny Otis & His Orchestra Goomp Blues Eddie Mack 1947-1952
Big Jim Wynn West Coast Lover Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Joe Houston Worry Worry Worry Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Junior Tamplin Love Is A Sin Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Joyce Jackson Lonely BluesMercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Dinah Washington New Blow Top Blues Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955

Show Notes:

From the booklet to The Mercury Blues 'N' Rhythm Story 1945-1955: "No other record label to come our of Chicago has ever had as many hit records, or become such a major power in the recording industry, as Mercury Records. Mercury covered a broad musical base, encompassing blues, pop, jazz, country, polka and gospel (and, in the years to follow, rhythm & blues, rock 'n' roll, doo-wop, soul, funk, and other genres). Housed in small offices in the famed Jeweller's Building on 35 East Wacker Drive, it was the first record label based in Chicago. (The famed Chess label was formed in late 1947 as Aristocrat Records. Vee-Jay, Chicago's other bygone independent, started in 1953.) Mercury ranks among the all-time top four in the number of hist to reach Billboard magazine's R&B charts, far ahead of its Windy City peers.

…"It's just The Blues," by Willie Dixon's Four Jumps Of Jive, was the company's debut release. Forming the Mercury Radio and Television Corporation were Berle Adams, Chicago agent-manager for the General Amusement Corp., and Irving Green of Olsen and Tilger Manufacturing Co., Inc. …'The big thing about Mercury was: we were an economy company,' Adams recently recalled with great enthusiasm. 'We had no money. The other companies were well financed. we couldn't compete with the big boys, so we chose R&B and country & western. You didn't need arrangers, copyists, big orchestras. It was easier to finance that kind of operation. I had come out of the cocktail lounge business in Chicago, I used the talent that I had worked with previously.'

The October 13, 1945 issue of Billboard reported: 'Chicago's potential as a recording center got a big shot in the arm with the announcement this week by Irving Green, local plastics expert, that he is a heading a new firm, Mercury Records, which will eventually reach 250,000 disks per month… Thus far the new label has inked only Negro artists, with its catalog including sides by June Richmond, ex-andy Kirk rythm singer; Bill Samuels and His Cats 'n' Jammers, and the Four Jumps of Jive, both cocktail units; Sippie Wallace and Karl Jones, blues shouters; Al Ammons, boogie pianist and half the team of Ammons and Johnson, and Bob Shaffner And His Harlem Hot Shots."

In early 1946 Mercury inaugurated their race series and would soon produced an impressive body of blues and R&B recordings which would make them rivals to Atlantic during the late 40's and 50's. As writer Jim O'Neal points out "today's listenership might be easily mislead because of the preponderance of Delta-based Chicago blues recordings from this period selected for reissue by collector's labels, but in truth a large portion of the blues records coming out of Chicago in the Forties and Fifties were decidedly more urbane, owing more to jazz and jump than to jukes and John the Conqueror roots. …In this field the most prolific of all the Chicago labels was Mercury,which released some 300 records in its 'Race' series from 1946 to 1952, in addition to several released in 1945-46 before the catalog was subdivided into different series."

In part one we spotlighted the years 1945 through 1949 with the style of most of the recording a more urbane jump blues. In our second installment that style is eclipsed by a more down-home style as Mercury spread its tentacles to New Orleans, Texas and Los Angeles. From a Billboard notice from the period: "CHICAGO, May 12-In a renewed effort to see what makes the rhythm and blues segment click, Art Talmadge, Mercury Records' executive vice-president in charge of artists and repertoire, left Friday (11) for a fast sweep thru the South, searching for new artists and material. Morry Price, sales manager, will meet Talmadge in Atlanta. In addition, the label's Southern distributors have been alerted to keep their eyes open for potential r.&b. waxers."

One of the label's destinations was New Orleans. The Mercury label cut some fine sessions in there between 19490 and 1953. The Mercury New Orleans sessions began with William B. Allen, who owned a radio supply store at Orleans and North Robertson streets and also distributed Mercury records in New Orleans. In late 1949 Allen talked to Mercury's main office about recording black artists in New Orleans. Among those recorded were Professor Longhair, Alma Monday, Little Joe Gaines, George Miller & His Mid-Driffs, Ray Johnson and Herbert 'Woo Woo' Moore among others.

From the West Coast the label recorded Chuck Norris, Johnny Otis, J.D. Edwards and Big Jimm Wynn among others. Chuck Norris worked in Chicago until the mid-’40s, when he moved out to the West Coast. He soon became one of the most-called musicians in Hollywood. He did sessions on his own between 1947-1953, including singles for Coast, Imperial, Mercury, Aladdin, Selective and Atlantic. Some of the guitarist’s best playing was on records by artists such as Percy Mayfield, Roy Hawkins and Floyd Dixon. Norris had a live record released in 1980 on the European Route 66 label.

Norris also backs Big Jim Wynn on our track, "West Coast Lover." Wynn was born June 21, 1912, in El Paso, TX, but grew up in Los Angeles, where his first instrument was the clarinet. Switching to tenor saxophone, he began his professional career with Charlie Echols and was a sideman on hundreds of West Coast recordings, including a long association with Johnny Otis. As a bandleader (often billed as Big Jim Wynn), he recorded sporadically from 1945 to 1959 with a dozen different labels, including 4 Star/Gilt Edge (which issued his best-known side, "Ee-Bobaliba"), Modern, Specialty, Supreme, and Mercury.

After a lengthy stint with Savoy, Johnny Otis jumped to Mercury, cutting four sessions for Mercury in 1951 and 1952.From those sessions we spin "Doggin' Blues" sporting a terrific vocal from Linda Hokpkins and the rocking instrumental "Goomp Blues" a spotlight for the whole band but particularly Pete "Guitar" Lewis who really tears it up.

Quite a number of Houston artists were recorded no doubt due to Bob Shad who was brought on in 1951 to handle its rhythm & blues productions. Shad already recorded a number of Houston blues artists for his Sittin' In label as he related to Arnold Shaw in his book Honkers And Shouters: "Went down South and did a lot of recording with Peppermint Harris, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Smokey Hogg. Recorded in Texas, mostly Houston."

Shad cut a number of fine sides for Sittin' In With and it was likely Shad who brought Lightnin' Hopkins to Mercury. Hopkins’ first decade of recording (1946-1956), was a prolific period which found him cutting close to 200 sides geared for the black market on a variety of different labels. Between 1946 and 1950 Hopkins recorded primarily for the L.A. based Aladdin label and the Houston based Gold Star label. After Gold Star he cut for RPM, Sittin' In With, Decca, Herald and a dozen sides for Mercury in 1951.

Elmore Nixon, L.C. Williams and Smokey Hogg also recorded for Sittin' In With and again it's likely Shad was instrumental in hooking them up with Mercury. Nixon was a Houston pianist who was a sideman on labels such as Gold Star, Peacock, Mercury, Savoy and Imperial between 1949 and 1955. In the 1960’s he backed Lightnin’ Hopkins and Clifton Chenier on sessions. He also cut over two-dozen sides under his own name between 1949 and 1952 for labels like Sittin’ In With, Peacock, Mercury Savoy and Imperial.

L.C. Williams was a singer/tap dancer who also occasionally drummed behind Hopkins. He arrived in Houston in 1945 and was one of the many characters who hung around in Lightning’s orbit, sitting on stoops drinking beer and wine, shooting the breeze with passers-by. He made his first record in 1947 with Hopkins on piano and guitar. Hopkins plays guitar on a four-song session for Gold Star in 1948 with Williams making some sides for Eddie’s, Freedom, Sittin' In With and a final session for Mercury in 1951. He died in Houston in 1960.

Andrew “Smokey” Hogg was born in Texas and in the 30’s and ran with guitarist the Black Ace playing for dances in small East Texas towns. In 1937 he waxed a solitary 78 and wouldn’t record again until 1947. Hogg only scored two R&B hits but was a consistent seller who cut hundreds of records for numerous labels through the late 50’s. He cut a four song-session for Mercury in 1951. He passed in 1960. His brother John Hogg cut two sessions in 1951, one for Mercury and one for Octive.

Two other Texas bluesman featured today are the obscure Luther Stoneham and Lee Grave. Stoneham cut only two sides in 1951 in Houston, both for Mercury. Lee Graves with Henry Hayes & His Rhythm Kings cut for sides in Houston for Mercury in 1951, his sole recorded legacy.

As Billboard noted: "Merc, which has had trouble getting an R&B catalog together, except for singer Dinah Washington, who has scored consistently, is giving Shad a free had, with a heavy budget set up for promotion and inking new artists." Back in 1949 Mercury tried its hand recording several previously successful Chicago artists such as Big Bill Broonzy, St. Louis Jimmy, Sunnyland Slim and Robert Jr. Lockwood. Except for St. Louis Jimmy, and with the addition of Memphis Slim, tried it hand again with Shad in charge.

As Big Bill Broonzy & His Fat Four, Broonzy cut nine sides for Mercury at two in 1949, two sessions in 1951 backed by a fine band that included Memphis Slim and a final session for the label backed just by bassist Ernest “Big” Crawford.

Robert Lockwood had backed Sunnyland Slim back in 1949 and cut a four-song session for Mercury in 1951 backed by Sunnyland Slim. Backed by bassist Ernest “Big” Crawford and drummer Alfred "Big Man" Wallace, Lockwood is in magnificent form on "(I'm Gonna) Dig Myself A Hole" a cover of the Arthur Crudup number, "Dust My Broom" which Lockwood learned from Robert Johnson, "My Daily Wish" and "Glory For Man", unissued by Mercury at the time.

Memphis Slim cut three sessions for Mercury in 1951 with singer Terry Timmons taking co-vocals on some tracks. Backed by riffing horns and rippling piano, Slim is at his elegant best on the brisk shuffle "No Mail Blues", the mid-tempo "Train Is Comin'" and the cocktail lounge tinged "Blue Evening" a sultry duet with Timmons.


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