1960’s Blues


ARTISTSONGALBUM
John Lee HookerGreat Fire Of NatchezNewport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues
John Lee HookerBus Station Blues Newport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues
Mississippi Fred McDowell, Annie Mae McDowell & Rev. Robert WilkinsWhat Do You Think About JesusBlues With A Feeling
Mississippi Fred McDowellLord I'm Going Down SouthThe Blues at Newport 1964
Rev. Gary DavisSamson and DelilahRev. Gary Davis At Newport
Rev. Gary DavisYou Got to Move Rev. Gary Davis At Newport
Mississippi John HurtSpikedriver Blues Newport Folk Festival 1963
Mississippi John HurtStagolee Newport Folk Festival 1963
Mississippi John HurtTrouble, I've Had It All My Days Live Oberlin College & Newport '63
Skip JamesSick Bed BluesBlues At Newport 1964
Skip JamesHard Time Killing Floor Blues Newport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues
Son House Death Letter BluesNewport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues
Son House Son's BluesBlues With A Feeling
Son House w/ Mance LipscombPony BluesGreat Bluesmen Newport
Muddy WatersWalkin' Blues Blues With A Feeling
Muddy WatersFlood Newport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues
Muddy WatersI'm Your Hoochie Coochie ManAt Newport 1960
Doc Reese Hey RattlerThe Blues at Newport 1964
Elizabeth CottonFreight trainThe Blues at Newport 1964
Mance LipscombFreddieBlues With A Feeling
Lightnin' HopkinsMojo Hand Live At Newport
Jesse FullerSan Francisco Bay BluesBlues With A Feeling
Jesse FullerDouble Double Do Love YouNewport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues
Robert Pete WilliamsThe Prodigal SonThe Prodigal Son
Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry Key To The HighwayBlues At Newport 1963
Sleepy John EstesCleanup At HomeBlues at Newport
Howlin' Wolf Dust My BroomDevil Got My Woman: Blues at Newport 1966
Howlin' Wolf Meet Me In The BottomDevil Got My Woman: Blues at Newport 1966

Show Notes:

Robert Wilkins Newport 1964
Rev. Robert Wilkins, Newport, 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 two of or look at the great blues performances of Newport in particular chronological order. The following information comes from the book Blues Music in the Sixties A Story in Black and White by Urlich Adelt.

"Even during the hiatus of folk song enthusiasm in the 1950s, a small group of connoisseurs kept promoting the music and helped to prepare for the full-scale folk revival between 1958 and 1965. 20 The folk music magazine Sing Out! was launched in 1950 as a small-scale operation and would grow into a formidable publication in the 1960s. Harry Smith’s six-disc Anthology of American Folk Music, which featured commercial recordings of blues, gospel, and string band music from the 1920s and 1930s, came out on Folkways in 1952 and would serve as an inspiration for many emerging folk musicians in the 1960s and as an impetus to rediscover the musicians featured on the recordings.

The Newport Folk Festival was one of the main catalysts of the 1960's folk revival. The showcasing of rediscovered blues artists, in particular in the years between 1963 and 1965, aptly demonstrates the emergence of a distinctive white blues fan culture that drew from notions of folk authenticity developed in nineteenth-century Europe and refined by the folk revivalists. …The Newport Folk Festival also revealed a particular form of antimodern blues purism, which entailed a nostalgic rediscovery of and hunt for prewar black musicians. This purism would eventually clash with the diluted but not necessarily less racialist white notions of blues authenticity represented by the plugging in of Mike Bloomfield and others.

Howlin' Wolf Newport 1966
Howlin Wolf with Hubert Sumlin on Guitar,
Newport Folk Festival (1966) by David Gahr

Although the first two Newport Folk Festivals in 1959 and 1960 were financial disasters, they drew about twelve thousand people each, an impressive number for the time. …The financial problems of both the jazz and the folk festival and the raucous crowds at the jazz festival in 1960 forced the organizers to cancel the folk festival in 1961 and 1962. …After the two-year hiatus, the Newport Folk Festival became a nonprofit operation in 1963. Among the board members of the newly established Newport Folk Foundation were George Wein, Pete Seeger, and Alan Lomax. The foundation’s mission was 'to promote and stimulate interest in the arts associated with folk music.' In addition to organizing the festival, this included fostering folk music and material culture in the field and in schools. Ralph Rinzler, another member of the board of directors, worked as talent and folklore coordinator and would seek out potential performers for the festival in rural regions of the United States and Canada.In an attempt to democratize the festival, each participant would receive a standard fee of fifty dollars (regardless of popularity) as well as travel and food reimbursements. The directors invited a larger number of amateur musicians, more women and musicians from a wider musical spectrum.

Interestingly, although the blues was racially coded as black or of black origin at Newport, much of the music in question was a nostalgic rehash of styles dating back to the 1920s and 1930s fraught with essentialist notions of blackness, and therefore few black people attended the concerts. Blues performers had only represented a small part of the lineup at the first two Newport Folk Festivals, but they became one of the major attractions in the years between 1963 and 1965 and contributed to a genre that fans could separate from folk music."

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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."

 

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Champion Jack DupreeReminiscin' With Champion JackChampion of the Blues
Champion Jack DupreeStoryville SpecialBoogie Woogie, Booze And Wild Women
Champion Jack DupreeDrive 'em Down SpecialTwo Fisted Piano From New Orleans: Blues Roots Vol. 8
Speckled RedI Had My FunBlues Masters 11: Speckled Red
Speckled RedFour O'Clock BluesBlues Masters 11: Speckled Red
Speckled RedEarly Morning Blues Blues Masters 11: Speckled Red
Lonnie Johnson & Otis SpannClementine BluesSwingin' with Lonnie: Blues Roots Vol. 5
Lonnie Johnson & Otis SpannSee See RiderSwingin' with Lonnie: Blues Roots Vol. 5
Sleepy John Estes with Hammie NixonDiving Duck BluesPortraits In Blues Vol. 10
John Henry BarbeeI Ain't Gonna Pick No More CottonI Ain't Gonna Pick No More Cotton
Sippie Wallace & Little Brother MontgomeryWoman Be WiseSippie Wallace Sings The Blues
Sippie Wallace & Little Brother MontgomeryI'm A Might Tight WomanSippie Wallace Sings The Blues
Big Joe WilliamsShake Them DownBig Joe Williams
Robert Pete WilliamsDoctor BluesRobert Pete Williams
Otis SpannT.B. BluesOtis Spann: I Have Had My Fun - Blues Roots Vol. 9
Otis SpannSpann's BoogieOtis Spann: I Have Had My Fun - Blues Roots Vol. 9
Big Bill BroonzyI Get The Blues When It RainsAn Evening With Big Bill Broonzy Vol. 2
Big Bill BroonzyBlack Brown And WhiteAn Evening With Big Bill Broonzy
Sunnyland SlimPrison Bound Blues Sunnyland Slim: Blues Roots Vol. 9
Roosevelt SykesThe Way I Feel Roosevelt Sykes: Portraits In Blues Vol. 11
Roosevelt SykesBoot That ThingRoosevelt Sykes: Portraits In Blues Vol. 11
Sonny Boy WilliamsonThe Sky Is CryingKeep It to Ourselves
Sonny Boy WilliamsonRebecca BluesPiano Blues
Little Brother MontgomeryI Must Get Mine In FrontDeep South Piano
Little Brother MontgomeryBob Martin BluesDeep South Piano
Sonny Terry with Brownie McGhee I'm Afraid Of FireWizard Of The Harmonica
Brownie McGhee My Last SuitThe Best Of Brownie McGhee
Memphis Slim This Is A Good Time To Write A Song Memphis Slim: Blues Roots Vol. 10

Show Notes:

Big Bill BroonzyOn today's program we spotlight a great batch of recordings from the Storyville label based in Copenhagen. Storyville managed to corral  many of the great blues performers who made their way to Europe staring in the latter end of the 1950's and which increased as the American Folk Blues Festival brought many more to European shores throughout the 1960's. I have always been impressed with the quality of the albums Storyville issued. Artists like Champion Jack Dupree, Memphis Slim and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, for example, recorded prolifically for many labels often churning out less than inspired recordings in their later years but Storyville had a knack for eliciting great performances from even the most jaded artists and the fact is that the Storyville albums maintain a consistently high level of quality. In addition to the original recordings, Storyville also released albums of recordings by Harry Oster and Pete Welding.

The year was 1950 when a group of jazz enthusiasts/record collectors often met at the home of Karl Emil Knudsen. Among those present were Heinrich Breiling and the young clarinet phenomenon Henrik Johansen. The label was launched in Copenhagen in 1952 with Knudsen eventually taking over full responsibility of the label. Storyville originally sold imported American records but when American jazz artists began to tour in Europe and Scandinavia Knudsen seized every opportunity to record them for the label. The label's first releases were 78 rpm reissues featuring Ma Rainey, Clarence Williams Blue Five, and James P. Johnson, but Storyville soon began releasing original recordings. Looking back on the period of 1956 to 1964, and to a lesser extant into the early 70's, Storyville’s recorded quite a bit of blues. The first great blues singer to arrive in Copenhagen was Big Bill Broonzy in 1956 and recorded by the label. Many blues artists toured Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival, which originally ran for a decade between 1962 and the early 70's. Storyville recorded the artists in the wee hours after they had played the evening concert. The label recorded many of the bluesmen who settled down and lived and performed in Europe including Memphis Slim, Champion Jack Dupree and Eddie Boyd. The label seemed to have a special affinity for piano players, cutting several albums by Champion Jack Dupree plus sessions by Speckled Red, Little Brother Montgomery, Memphis Slim, Roosevelt Sykes, Sunnyland Slim and Eddie Boyd. Others who recorded for the label include Robert Pete Williams, Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Sonny Boy Williamson and others. A good chunk of the material has been made its way to CD including the 7-CD set, The Blues Box. The Storyville discography can be a bit confusing as the label repackaged, and re-titled their albums through the years.

Champion Jack DupreeAs mentioned previously, there's a wealth of great piano blues recorded by the label.  Champion Jack Dupree moved to Europe in 1959, first settling in Switzerland and then Denmark, England, Sweden and, finally, Germany. He record prolifically for Storyville, British Decca, Blue Horizon, Sonet and others. Dupree moved to Europe in 1959, first settling in Switzerland and then Denmark, England, Sweden and, finally, Germany. He record prolifically for Storyville, British Decca, Blue Horizon, Sonet and others. Dupree cut 45's, EP's and several albums for Storyville including Champion of the Blues, The Best Of The Blues, Portraits in Blues Vol. 5, The Blues Of Champion Jack Dupree and several others.

Speckled Red first recorded in 1929, cutting his classic "The Dirty Dozens" among others. He did another session in 1930 and a final one in 1938. Charlie O'Brien, a St. Louis policeman and something of a blues aficionado had tracked down old bluesmen during the 1950s, including Speckled Red on December 14, 1954, who subsequently was signed to Delmark Records as their first blues artist. In 1960 he was booked to tour Europe. On June he toured Scandinavia where he recorded for Storyville.

Little Brother Montgomery saw his career pick up in the 1960's and he became a world traveler, visiting the UK and Europe on several occasions during the 1960's, cutting several albums there, while remaining based in Chicago. He cut one of his best latter day albums in 1972 for Storyville titled Deep South Piano. Montgomery can also be heard playing behind Sippie Wallace on the Storyville album Sippie Wallace Sings The Blues recorded in 1966 when when she was touring with the American Folk Blues.

Other piano players who recorded for Storyville were Otis Spann, Roosevelt Sykes, Memphis Slim, Sunnyland Slim and Eddie Boyd. Roosevelt Sykes was recorded for Storyville while on tour for the 1964 American Folk Blues Festival. Memphis Slim first appeared outside the United States in 1960, touring with Willie Dixon, with whom he returned to Europe in 1962 as a featured artist in the first of the series of American Folk Festival concerts. in 1962. That same year, he moved permanently to Paris where he secured his position as one of the most prominent blues artists for nearly three decades. He recorded the album Traveling With The Blues for Storyville in 1960 plus some other scattered sides for the label. Otis Spann recorded an album for the label as well as backing Lonnie Johnson on a fantastic session. Both men were on tour for the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival at the time.

Sonny Boy Williamson: Portrait In Blues Vol. 4Big Bill Broonzy was the first blues singer to be recorded by Storyville. In 1951, Broonzy took his first tour of Europe, where he was met with enthusiasm and appreciation. His appearances in Europe introduced the blues to European audiences and were especially influential in London’s emerging skiffle and rock blues scene. Broonzy’s success also set the stage for later blues artists such as Sonny Boy Williamson II and Muddy Waters to play European venues. Broonzy toured Europe again in 1955, 1956 and 1957. Broonzy was recorded live at Club Montmartre in Copenhagen and these recordings were issued on Storyville as An Evening With Big Bill Broonzy Vol. 1 & 2.

Other blues singers recorded for the label include Sonny Boy Williamson II, Big Joe Williams, John Henry Barbee, Sleepy John Estes & Hammie Nixon, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and Robert Pete Williams. Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon were recorded for Storyville while both were on tour for the 1964 American Folk Blues Festival while  Big Joe and Robert Pete Williams were recorded for Storyville while both were on tour for the 1972 Festival. Both Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry cut excellent albums in the early 70's for Storyville each accompanying each other. Sonny Boy Williamson first traveled to Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival in 1963 and joined the Festival again in 1964. He recorded a wonderful session for Storyville in 1963 backed by Matt Murphy, Memphis Slim and Billie Stepney.

John Henry Barbee cut an exceptional album for the label and has a fascinating but tragic story. Barbee recorded recorded for Vocalion in the early fall of 1938 where he made the trip to Chicago and recorded four titles. His initial record sold well enough to cause Vocalion to call on Barbee again, but by that time he had left his last known whereabouts in Arkansas. Barbee returned to the blues scene during the midst of the blues revival. His earliest sides are from 1963 recorded at the Chicago club the Fickle Pickle. n 1964 he joined the American Folk Blues Festival and was recorded several times that year: songs by him appear on a pair of albums on the Spivey label, several tracks were recorded while in Europe as well as a an excellent full-length album for Storyville issued as Portraits in Blues Vol. 9. and appears on John Henry Barbee & Sleepy John Estes: Blues Live. In a case of tragic circumstances, Barbee returned to the United States and used the money from the tour to purchase his first automobile. Only ten days after purchasing the car, he accidentally ran over and killed a man. He was locked up in a Chicago jail, and died there of a heart attack a few days later, November 3, 1964, 11 days before his 59th birthday.

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Michael SpörkeInterview
Big Mama ThorntonCotton Picking BluesThe Complete 1950 1961
Big Mama ThorntonI Smell A RatHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonRock-A-Bye BabyHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonYes, BabyHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonHound DogHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonMy StoryThe Complete 1950 1961
Big Mama ThorntonStop Hoppin' On MeHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonThey Call Me Big MamaThe Complete 1950 1961
Big Mama ThorntonOne More River Saved
Big Mama ThorntonBig Mama's Coming HomeThe Complete 1950-1961
Big Mama ThorntonLife Goes OnAll Night Long They Played The Blues
Big Mama ThorntonBall N' Chain Ball And Chain
Big Mama ThorntonLittle Red RoosterLive In Europe
Big Mama ThorntonMy Heavy Load Ball And Chain
Big Mama ThorntonSession BluesIn Europe
Big Mama ThorntonI'm Feeling Alright With The Muddy Waters Blues Band)
Big Mama ThorntonLooking The World OverIn Europe
Big Mama ThorntonEverybody's Happy But MeSassy Mama!
Big Mama ThorntonJailJail
Big Mama ThorntonThat Lucky Old SunLive At Ann Arbor 1970
Big Mama Thornton Unlucky GirlBall And Chain
Big Mama ThorntonRock MeGunsmoke Blues

Show Notes:

Big Mama ThorntonWillie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton is probably best remembered for two songs that became huge for Elvis and later Janis Joplin. "Hound Dog" held down the top slot on Billboard's R&B charts for seven weeks in 1953 and Elvis had an even bigger hit with it in 1956. Joplin covered "Ball and Chain" on her debut album which became a million seller. Thornton moved to Houston where she signed with Don Robey's cutting some terrific sides but no hits to match "Hound Dog." After Houston she settled in California where she cut a few singles and struggled playing small club dates. After new management she began to play festivals including the American Folk Blues Festival and cut some fine albums for Arhoolie. She cutting records for Mercury and Vanguard through the 70's and touring up until her death in 1984. Today we feature Big Mama's music and hear my interview with Michael Spörke who has written the biography Big Mama Thornton: The Life and Music.

As Spörke writes: "Willie Mae moved in the house of relatives in Barbour County Alabama, and found herself a job washing and cleaning spittoons in the local tavern. One night the tavern's regular;r vocalist go drunk so Willie Mae convinced the tavern owner that she could do the job. She never looked back after that." As she related to writer Ralph Gleason: "I like my own old down home singing, with the feeling.I learned to sing blues by myself. …My singing comes from experience, my own feeling. I got my own feeling for everything. I never had no one teach me nothing. I never went to school for music or nothing. I stayed home to take care of my mother who was sick. I taught myself to sing and to blow harmonica and even to play the drums by watching other people. I can't read music but I know where I'm singing! If I hear a blues I like, I try to sing it in my own way. It's always best to have something of your own. I don't sing like nobody but myself." Her big break came through singer Diamond Teeth Mary who met Willie Mae when she was working on a garbage truck and  happened to hear her singing. Mary told her about a singing contest for Sammy Greens Hot Harlem Revue. At fourteen years old, she won the contest and began traveling with the Revue.

Thornton’s career began to take off when she moved to Houston in 1948.She made her debut in 1950 cutting "All Right Baby b/w Bad Luck Got My Man" for the tiny E&W label on Houston's Dallas Avenue. She signed a a five year recording contract with Don Robey's Peacock Records in 1951. Thornton played at Robey's Bronze Peacock club and toured the Big Mama Thornton AdChitlin' Circuit. Thornton cut some solid records before "Hound Dog", such as "Cotton picking Blues" and  "Let Your Tears Fall Baby" but nothing hit the charts. Robey negotiated a deal with Johnny Otis in which he would take some of Robey's artists on tour with the revue and that he would also record them. Sh was apparently a big hits as the Chicago Defender proclaimed that Thornton "stopped the show in the Tacoma, Oakland and Richmond auditoriums, as well as in Stockton, Sacramento, Bakersfield and the Elks Auditorium in Los Angeles." While on tour with Otis she cut "Hound Dog." The son was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller especially for Thornton. Otis brought Leiber and Stoller  to see her to see if they could come up with something for her. As Stoller recalled:  "we saw Big mama and she knocked me cold. she looked like the biggest, bad-ass, saltiest chick you would ever see. And she was mean, a 'lady bear' as they used to call 'em. She must have been 350 pounds and she had all these scars all over her face. I had to write a song for her that basically said 'Go fuck yourself' but how do you do it without actually saying it? ..She was a wonderful blues singer with a great moaning style, but it was as much her appearance as her blues style that influenced the writing of Hound Dog." The song went to number one on the R&B charts and was the biggest record Peacock ever had.

Unable to follow the success of  "Hound Dog" she left peacock in 1957 and relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, playing clubs in San Francisco and L.A. but not recording again until 1961. In 1961 she waxed 45's for Irma and Bay Tone. During the latter session she cut "Ball and Chain" but was not released. Her fortunes took an upswing with new manager Jimmy Moore and "the big festivals and shows came back into Big Mama Thornton's life…" Her first big festival shows the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival which she would play again in 1966 and 1968. In 1965, she toured with the American Folk Blues Festival package in Europe. As Spörke writes: "Big Mama was always put on at the end of each show. She was the highlight." During the festival she got the chance to record an album for Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie label. Big Mama In Europe featured an all-star backing band that included Buddy guy, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Walter Horton, Eddie Boyd and others.

Back in the States after her European tour she cut a few singles for Sotoplay, Kent and the terrific "Life Goes On" for Galaxy. In 1966 she cut her second album for Arhoolie, Big Mama Thornton Vol. 2: The Queen at Monterey with the Chicago Blues Band. The album found her backed by a crack Muddy Waters band that included James Cotton, Sammy Lawhorn and Otis Spann among others. 1968 saw the release of the album Ball and Chain on Arhoolie.

While the black audience was turning away from the blues there was a growing appreciation for blues and roots music among white audiences that would benefit Thornton greatly. Between 1966 and 1969 she was in great demand in campuses, clubs, folk festivals and rock festivals. She played in places like the Fillmore and the Ash Grove, sharing the stage with rock bands like the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane. It was during this period she met Janis Joplin and members of Big Brother & the Holding Company. It was at a club that they heard her perform "Ball and Chain." As Joplin  said " she sings the blues with such heart and soul. I have learned so much from her and only wish I could sing as well as Willie Mae." Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company's performance of "Ball 'n' Chain" at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and release of the song on their number one album Cheap Thrills renewed interest in Thornton's career and was the song that made Joplin famous.

Big Mama Thornton at the 1965 American Folk Blues Festival

 

By 1969, she signed with Mercury Records. Mercury released her most successful album, Stronger Than Dirt, which reached number 198 in the Billboard Top 200 record chart. Thornton then signed a contract with Pentagram cutting a gospel album called Saved. Thornton's last albums were Jail and Sassy Mama for Vanguard Records in 1975. Thornton never stopped touring until her passing in 1984, including a return to Europe on 1972. As Spörke writes: "The newspapers, for the most part, wrote that she was found dead, alone in a boarding house, but her friends say  that this is not the truth. It seems more realistic that she had gathered together her old buddies one last time on July 25, 1984. Around six in the evening, rumor has it, she phoned her sister Mattie. She sang for her, her favorite song, 'That Lucky Old Sun.' Then she went to the sofa, drank some gin and milk, fell to sleep and never got up." As Johnny Otis said at her funeral: "Don't waste your sorrow on Big Mama. She's free. Don't fell sorry for Big mama. There's no more pain. No more suffering in a society where the color of skin was more important than the quality of your talent."

 

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Guitar Slim Little BoyGreensboro Rounder
Guitar Slim Worried BluesGreensboro Rounder
Lum Guffin Moaning And Groaning Blues Walking Victrola
Lum Guffin Railroad Blues Walking Victrola
Shortstuff Macon Moanin' Introducing Mr. Shortstuff
Shortstuff Macon Great Big LegsIntroducing Mr. Shortstuff
Maxwell Street Jimmy Me And My Telephone Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis
Maxwell Street Jimmy Drifting From Door To Door Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis
Maxwell Street Jimmy Crying Won't Make Me Stay
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Guitar Slim Penitentiary Moan Blues Greensboro Rounder
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Guitar Slim Lovin Home Blues Greensboro Rounder
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Lum Guffin Old Country BluesOld Country Blues
Shortstuff Macon Short Stuff's Corrina Hell Bound & Heaven Sent
Shortstuff Macon My Jack Don't Drink Water No More Hell Bound & Heaven Sent
Shortstuff Macon Tight Like ThatHell Bound & Heaven Sent
Maxwell Street Jimmy Make Some Love To You Chicago Blues Live At The Fickle Pickle
Maxwell Street Jimmy Long Haired Darlin' Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis
Guitar Slim Won't You Spread Some Flowers On My Grave Living Country Blues Vol. 8
Guitar Slim – Bad Luck Blues Living Country Blues Vol. 8
Lum GuffinOn The Road Again Walking Victrola
Lum GuffinJack Of Diamond Walking Victrola
Guitar Slim Come On In My Kitchen Living Country Blues USA: Introduction
Guitar Slim Lula's Back In Town Living Country Blues vol. 10

Show Notes:

 Guitar Slim: Greensboro Rounder
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I was talking last week on the air during our pledge drive about radio and how the landscape has changed with iTunes and services like Spotify and Pandora. What I tried to emphasize is that even with these services there is a vast amount of material that has never been digitized and hence you will never hear on these services. This is certainly the case with the blues. When CD's starting coming out many of us assumed everything would be made available but there remain many, many great albums that remain long out-of-print with little chance of ever getting reissued. If you look in the The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings, one of my favorite resources, there's a thousand pages listing blues CD's but one could come up with a hefty companion volume of all the recordings that have not made it onto CD and therefore not included in that book. Those recordings are featured regularly on this show and make up something of a forgotten history of the blues. There are many artists who's complete output remains unissued on CD, making their achievements virtually forgotten. With companies like Document and Yazoo, almost all of the pre-war materiel has been reissued. Similarly labels like Ace and Classics, among others, have done a good job covering the post-war era. The most glaring oversight is some of the great, little known bluesman who were captured in the 1960's and 70's, many of these field recordings, and issued almost exclusively on small labels. Our ongoing Forgotten Country Blues Heroes continues spotlighting these artists.

From the 1960's through the 80's there were folklorists, researchers and dedicated fans such as David Evans, Pete Welding, George Mitchell, Sam Charters, Chris Stratwichz, Mack McCormick, Bruce Jackson, Peter B. Lowry, Tary Owens, Art Rosenbaum, Pete Welding, Bengt Olsson, Kip Lornell, Glenn Hinson, Tim Duffy, and Axel Küstner who actively sought out and recorded rural blues. Some were hunting for the famous names who made records in the 1920’s and 1930’s, others were seeking to fill in biographical blanks regarding some of the older musicians coveted by collectors and then there were those who were seeking to document the blues tradition as it still existed in rural communities. Today's program spotlights a batch of superb, little known, artists who were recorded during this period, almost all of whose recordings remain out-of-print: Guitar Slim Stephens, Lum Guffin, Short Stuff Macon and Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis.

 Lum Guffin: Walking Victrola
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James “Guitar Slim” Stephens was born on March 10, 1915, near Spartanburg, South Carolina. He began playing pump organ when he was only five years old, singing spirituals he learned from his parents and reels he heard from his older brother pick on the banjo. Slim was so small that his feet would not even reach the organ pedals, so he had one of his brothers do the pumping while he practiced the keys. Within a few years, Slim was playing piano. When he was thirteen, Green began picking guitar, playing songs he heard at local “fling-dings,” house parties, and churches. A few years later he joined the John Henry Davis Medicine Show, playing music to draw crowds to hear the show master’s pitch; this took him throughout the southeastern Piedmont. It seems as if traveling was in Slim’s blood from that point on; for in the next twenty or so years, he moved throughout the eastern United States living in such cities as Richmond, Durham, Louisville, Nashville, and Waterbury, Connecticut. In 1953 he arrived in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he lived for the remainder of his life playing both guitar and piano–singing the blues at house parties and spirituals at church.

Green's was first recorded in the early 70's by Kip Lornell who recorded him on several occasions in 1974 and 1975. His first LP, Greensboro Rounder, was issued in 1979 by the British Flyright label and are comprised of these recordings. Green also appears on the anthologies Eight Hand Sets & Holy Steps and Ain't Gonna Rain No More from the 1970's. Green's final recordings were made in 1980 by Siegfried Christmann and Axel Küstner for the Living Country Blues USA series of albums. Other songs from 1980 appear on the album Old Time Barrelhouse Blues which also includes sides by Memphis Piano Red. Green passed away in 1991. I'll be spotlighting more sides by Slim on an upcoming show devoted to the field recordings of Kip Lornell.

Begnt Olsson recorded Lum Guffin between 1972 and 1974, with a few tracks appearing on anthologies and the rest on his only full-length album, Walking Victrola, issued on the Flyright label in 1973. Further field recordings were made in 1978 by Gianni Marcucci and issued on his Albatros label. Guffin performed as a street musician around Binghampton, Memphis during the depression with his sometime partner, mandolin player ‘Chunk’ McCullough or at home for various social gatherings, picnics, dances, etc. Guffin also performed in a fife and drum band during the time of these recordings. He passed in 1993.

 Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis
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Regarding Short Stuff Macon the liner notes to his Folkways album (Hell Bound And Heaven Sent recorded in 1964) had this to say: "Short Stuff has now begun traveling the sparse and fickle concert circuit with Big Joe Williams, who, in a trip back to Mississippi,'discovered' him, liked his 'deep down' music, remembered his father and mother, and decided to take him with him.” In 1964 Macon recorded for the Spivey label issued on the album called Introducing Mr. Shortstuff. He appeared one final time on the album Goin’ Back to Crawford alongside Big Joe and others on a 1971 session. Macon passed in 1973.

Maxwell Jimmy Davis was Born Charles W. Thompson on March 2, 1925 in Tippo, MS. He learned to play guitar from John Lee Hooker while still a teenager, developing an insistent single-chord technique similar to that of his mentor; Davis and Hooker regularly gigged together in Detroit throughout the '40s, with the former settling in Chicago early the next decade. There he became a fixture of the West Side's Maxwell Street marketplace area. Davis recorded for Sam Phillips in 1952 but those sides were never issued .Live tracks from 1963 at Chicago's Fickle Pickle have been issued on different albums and there were some sides cut for the Testament label circa 1964.65. In 1965 he recorded his only full-length album, Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis for Elektra. His last recordings were from the late 80's. He passed in 1995.

 

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