1960’s Blues


George Mitchell Collection

This is our second installment of my rummage thought the amazing trove of field recordings George Mitchell recorded over a twenty year period. For more background make sure to read part one. As I mentioned in the first installment a good chunk of these recordings have been collected in the 7-CD George Mitchell Collection box set from Fat Possum. In the first part I covered the first three volumes and now take a look at the remaining ones.

Disc 4 is dominated by two giants, Fred McDowell and R.L. Burnside, recorded two days apart in the summer of 1967. McDowell had recorded prolifically by this point ever since Alan Lomax found him in 1959. Burnside, however, was unknown outside of his community. As Mitchell recalled: "We heard about R.L. from Othar Turner. See, Fred McDowell hadn't mentioned R.L. – competition. Big-time competition. …The very first song he did was "Goin' Down South." You can imagine…I was completely taken aback. …'Goddamn this motherfucker's good. I have found somebody.'" Four of those songs are included here which have all been reissued by Fat Possum as First Recordings and they remain among Burnside's finest. What makes the McDowell session so special is his reunion with harmonica player Johnny Woods who McDowell hadn't seen in eight years. The resulting off-the-cuff jam session is a spellbinding, intense affair as the duo pour it on with jaw dropping intensity on McDowell's trademark "Shake Em' On Down" and "Mama Says I'm Crazy." All of these sides have been collected on Fat Possum's Mama Says I'm Crazy. Three additional tracks with Woods taking the vocal appear on disc 3.

Cliff Scott"Too many people went to Mississippi", lamented Mitchell. Unlike many, Mitchell, didn't confine his activities to that state, instead recording extensively in Georgia and Alabama. Mitchell uncovered the details of a rural sound in the Lower Chattahoochee Valley which encompasses the Chattahoochee River as it runs the southern border between Georgia and Alabama to the state line of Florida. Those who play in the style include: Cliff Scott, J.W. Warren, Jimmy Lee Harris, Precious Bryant, Albert Macon and Eddie Harris. Fat Possum's Lower Chattahoochee Valley collects fifteen sides by various exponents of the style. The standout is Cliff Scott a wonderful bottleneck player who had a gently rolling style and a mellow, expressive vocal exemplified on songs like "Long Wavy Hair." "Woke Up This Morning" has a strong delta feel, close to the style of Muddy's plantation recordings. Jimmy Lee Harris, who worked with his brother Eddie Harris, played uncanny harmonica without a harmonica, a skill he learned in jail and was an expressive vocalist with a rhythmic style. Both men were recorded in the early 1980's in Alabama. Eddie's two numbers reveal a a fine electric guitarist with a down-home Jimmy Reed style. Mitchell also recorded the duo Albert Macon & Robert Thomas around the same time. The two had been playing together for some twenty years and their empathy is on display on the rollicking "Flat Foot Boogie" ("Play the strings out of it! Beat the blood out of it, now!") as the two interweave their percussive guitars with remarkable skill and vitality. Precious Bryant has achieved a measure of success in recent years with a pair of national releases but the Mitchell recordings from 1969 were her first, cut when she was just twenty-seven. Her three numbers are utterly charming propelled by her propulsive, gently rolling guitar and husky, quite vocals. J.W. Warren was the last artist Mitchell recorded in the field and certainly a major talent. Warren had a gently driving guitar style, occasionally employing slide, and was a wonderful interpretor of traditional material as well as laying down intriguing originals like "Hoboing Into Hollywood." A dozen of Warren's sides have been issued on Fat Possum's Life Ain't Worth Livin'.J.W. Warren

There's several name artists on these volumes including Robert Nighthawk, Maxwell Street Jimmy, Jesse Mae Hemphill, John Henry Barbee, Furry Lewis, Will Shade and Charlie Burse. Nighthawk, of course, needs no introduction and Mitchell's recordings capture him just months before he passed away. Although the booklet doesn't say so, "Down By The Woodshed" is a previously unissued instrumental and two more unissued sides are available as digital download: "Down By The Wayside" and "Travelin' Man Blues." Mitchell was involved in a concert series at Chicago's Fickle Pickle club where excellent recordings were made by under recorded figures like John Henry Barbee and Maxwell Street Jimmy. Not available on the box set but available as digital download, possibly from the Fickle Pickle series, are a half-a-dozen sides by James Brewer who's long been a favorite. As far as I can tell these have not been issued before. As for the Memphis contingent, Furry Lewis is in exceptional form stretching out at length on "Good Morning Judge" and "Furry Lewis' Careless Love." Fat Possum's Good Morning Judge contains ten tracks Mitchell recorded in 1962 and 1967. Will Shade's sides are a bit rough around the edges although quite entertaining, especially his filthy version of "Dirty Dozens" where, as Mitchell notes, "he says it all" and the lively "K.C. Blues" with Burse on vocals. Like Precious Bryant, Jesse Mae Hemphill made her first side with Mitchell. She was only twenty-two when delivered a pair of absolutely captivating gospel numbers with minimal guitar backing.

Roas Lee HillAnother notable female artist was Rosa Lee Hill who lived near Jesse Mae and was the daughter of Sid Hemphill. Mitchell devoted a chapter to Hill in his 1971 book Blow My Blues Away. Hill played compelling, hypnotic blues in the North Mississippi style and is captivating on stark numbers like "Bullying Well" and "Pork & Beans" ("Mama's in the kitchen cookin' pork and beans/Daddy's on the ocean runnin' submarines"). Two other artists featured in Mitchell's book were Robert Diggs and Robert Johnson. Diggs was a marvelously expressive harp player delivering a lovely version of "Someday Baby"and a virtuoso harmonica workout on the instrumental "Racehorse Charleston." Robert Johnson had given up the blues in 1927 for the church. Johnson's powerful, bluesy moaning vocal is heard on four riveting numbers accompanied by his daughters. There's some marvelous gospel on the final disc, a bonus CD by artists Fat Possum didn’t know enough about to include in the original 7" set, by the Pettis Sisters who lay down a pair of rousing numbers making one wish they had been more extensively recorded. There's no shortage of talent on this disc including fine sides by Willie Rockomo, Bruce Upshaw and George Hollis all of whom had some sides issued on the Revival label back in the 1970's.

The days when you could go down south with a portable recorder and capture some unheralded blues genius is gone. These recordings are a rich, vibrant look at a vanished era. Historically and musically this is and incredible cache of recordings and I'm glad Fat Possum made these available. However, as I said in part one, I wish they had presented these in a more consistent, less scattershot manner. These recordings deserve better. You only have to look at how Dust-to-Digital handled the Art Rosenbaum field recordings to see how it should have been done.

Cliff Scott – Long Wavey Hair (MP3)

Albert Macon & Robert Thomas – Flat Foot Boogie (MP3)

Rosa Lee Hill – Pork & Beans (MP3)

J.W. Warren – Rabbit On A Log (MP3)

Robert Diggs – Someday Baby (MP3)



Blues Legacy 1 Blues Legacy 2 Blues Legacy 3

The thought of "lost" blues recordings always gets me worked up even though I usually get disappointed with the final result. Such is the case with Chris Barber's The Blues Legacy Series: Lost & Found, a three volume series touting unreleased live recordings of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Jimmy Witherspoon, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Champion Jack Dupree and Louis Jordan. According to the liner notes: "The formation of the 'Lost & Found' Series came into being; when the Jazz & Blues legend Chris Barber came across some old 1/4 inch magnetic tape. On these, he discovered the unique sounds of Sonny Boy Williamson in concert, recorded many decades ago, in England. Chris set about investigating his archives further, only to find more of these tapes…"

The bulk of the recordings were made between 1957-1964 at the very beginning of the blues boom that swept across Europe. I was always under the impression that interest in blues really took off in Europe with the inception of the American Folk Blues Festival in 1962. I'm not sure what kind of blues audience there was in England in the late 1950's; I don't think labels like Chess were easy to come by back then and it wasn't until 1960 that Paul Oliver published his pioneering Blues Fell This Morning. Certainly the audiences on these recordings are enthusiastic but I would certainly be interested in more information regarding the British blues scene of the period.

Firstly, just to make clear, the 1958 Muddy Waters recordings from the Manchester Free Trade Hall have been previously issued. These are Muddy's earliest live recordings and his first tour of England. Vocally Muddy is in magnificent form, his vocals miked right up front, unfortunately his guitar is submerged in the mix. It's also too bad that Muddy's band didn't make it over with him although thankfully Otis Spann did and his piano playing, although low in the mix, is a thing of beauty. Most of the program features just Muddy, Spann and Barber's drummer Graham Burbridge which is just fine. More problematic is "Walking Thru The Park" featuring Barber's band wailing along behind Muddy with their brand of traditional jazz, a jarring contrast that simply doesn't work. Unfortunately this is emblematic of many of the recordings.

Like Muddy, Sister Rosetta Tharpe is in terrific vocal form and like Muddy she suffers from a guitar that's virtually inaudible which is a real shame. Again Barber's band and Tharpe's vocals make for an incongruous mix on numbers like "Every Time I Feel The Spirit", "Up Above My Head I Hear Music In The Air", "Old Time Religion" where they virtually drown poor Rosetta out. Where's Lucky Millinder when you need him? The latter number plus "When The Saints Go Marching in feature white vocalist Ottilie Patterson who, to be fair, is not a bad vocalist but comes across as a bit staid. Fortunately most of the Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee sides from their 1958 date at the Manchester Free Trade Hall feature just the duo who are in reliably fine form. Several other sides from the same year are from a BBC broadcast which liberally feature Barber's band as well as Ottilie Patterson. To be honest the duo's sides have never excited me all that much although in small doses they're quite enjoyable. Similar issues plague the Sonny Boy Williamson performance from 1964. The band is present on just about all the tracks much to the detriment of Sonny Boy's subtle, nuanced blues. I believe some of these sides have been issued before but I'm not sure if it was a legitimate release. Much better are his AFBF performances of the same year backed by Sunnyland Slim, Hubert Sumlin and Willie Dixon.

The Jimmy Witherspoon and Howlin' Wolf sides fare much better. Witherspoon is in superb voice, delivering an aching, world weary version of "Have You Ever Loved A Woman" and his classic "Times Are Getting Tougher Than Tough" from a 1964 date that get fairly sympathetic backing. A 1980 set for Dutch Radio finds him in still superb form just prior to the cancer that would ravage his voice in his later years. Howlin' Wolf alongside trusty guitarist Hubert Sumlin are simply electrifying on a torrid "Dust My Broom" and a dramatic, powerhouse version of "May I Have A Talk With You." I have to admit that the riffing horns on "Howling For My Baby" are quite effective as Wolf storms through this one.

From a historical standpoint these are fascinating recordings but a mixed bag musically. Overall there's enough good performances to recommend these, at least the second and third volumes, although all the artists involved have better live recordings on the market. One must also give Barber his due for taking a chance on these artists at a time when the blues was anything but a sure bet.

Muddy Waters – Blow Wind Blow (MP3)

Howlin' Wolf – May I Have A Talk With You (MP3)

Jimmy Witherspoon – Have You Ever Loved A Woman (MP3)


For the last few weeks I've been captivated by the recordings of George Mitchell who made some remarkable field recordings throughout the South over a twenty year period beginning in the early 1960's. Many of these recordings have appeared on specialist labels like Southland, Revival, Flyright, Arhoolie and Rounder but are long out of print now. Several years ago the Fat Possum label acquired the Mitchell archive and has been reissuing the recordings through a variety of formats including CD, 7-inch record and digital download. While I admire Fat Possum for issuing these recordings, which will be of interest to a very narrow audience, their reissue of the material has been frustrating. They started the reissue program with single CD's of artists like Fred McDowell, J.W. Warren, Joe Callicott but eventually settled on putting the records out as series of 7" records (45 volumes in total) which seems a sure fire way of limiting their impact. Furthermore they have issued some more single artists CD's of folks like Cecil Barfield, Leon Pinson and Buddy Moss but these now seem impossible to locate. It seems a good chunk of the Mitchell collection (including many sides not on the box set) is available through eMusic and Amazon as digital downloads. I finally decided to pick up the The George Mitchell Collection box set which contains all 150 songs on each of the 45 7-inches spread out over six CD's plus a 24-track bonus CD by artists Fat Possum didn't know enough about to include in the original set. Also included is a well written booklet. I have to admit I've been a bit obsessed with these remarkable recordings and also picked up a couple of the individual CD's plus downloaded a number of songs that don't appear on the box set. Here, then, is the first of a two part trawl through these recordings as we look through the first three CD's.

Mitchell wasn't the only one roaming the south in the 1960's in search of blues; there was folklorists and researchers such as David Evans, Sam Charters, Gayle Dean Wardlow, Art Rosenbaum and others. 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, like Mitchell, who were seeking to record whoever they could find. Mitchell did record some of the famous artists of the past like Buddy Moss, Furry Lewis, Will Shade, Sleepy Johns Estes and was the first to record artists who would achieve later fame such as R.L. Burnside, Jesse Mae Hemphill, Othar Turner and Precious Bryant. While the blues revival was picking up steam with newly discovered artists like Son House, Bukka White and Mississippi John Hurt hitting the circuit, Mitchell's recordings were a sort of a parallel undercurrent to the more famous artists. What Mitchell recorded in the rural communities of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi in the 1960's was a still thriving, if largely undocumented, blues culture. Mitchell had the passion and drive to seek out these folks, and unlike some folklorists didn't use the music to reinforce his own theories, he simply let the musicians speak for themselves and judging by the recordings they clearly responded to Mitchell's sincerity (being a southerner probably didn't hurt as well). Mitchell came along at the right time as he relates in the notes to the LP South Georgia Blues by William Robertson aka Cecil Barfield: "As late as 1969 a country bluesman who at least occasionally played could be located in most small towns of Georgia. In 1976, there are very few active blues musicians left in the state! In the short span of seven years, one of the world's most vital and influential forms of music as it was originally performed has all but died out in Georgia, and probably in the rest of the South as well. …Most bluesmen have either died or fallen into ill health accompanying old age, and the younger generation of rural blacks long ago turned their backs on the blues." It was also, he noted, the Church who claimed many bluesmen as well as the lack of financial incentive to play the blues that was the music's death knell.

 The most striking musician on the first disc is Cecil Barfield, and I agree with Mitchell's assessment that he was some kind of genius. Mitchell called him "probably the greatest previously unrecorded bluesman I have had the pleasure of recording during my 15 years of field research." Using the name William Robertson, in fear of endangering his welfare checks, he cut the LP South Georgia Blues for Southland in the mid-70's with several other tracks appearing on Flyright's Georgia Blues Today (reissued by Fat Possum with the same title and liner notes). I imagine Barfield is an acquired taste but to me he is simply mesmerizing; his music, with his droning, lightly distorted electric guitar coupled with his powerful mushed mouth, nasal singing, is hypnotic. Barfield has some originals but his genius is in the way he transforms well known songs by Frankie Lee Sims ("Lucy Mae Blues"), Lightnin' Hopkins ("Mojo Hand"), J.B. Lenoir ("Talk To Your Daughter") and others into something startlingly original. Only four songs by Barfield are on the box set although I was so taken with his music I downloaded all his songs on Amazon (George Mitchell Collection Vol. 2, Disc 3 & 4), 43 songs in all!

The sheer depth of singular talent is consistently surprising. Take John Lee Zielgler recorded in Georgia in 1978 and Lonzie Thomas recorded in Alabama in the early 1980's. Zielgler achieves a a gorgeous, fluid slide technique from his unorthodox style (he was a left-handed guitarist who played a right-handed guitar upside-down). His three numbers not only feature his slide work but also his beautiful high pitched voice backed by the wonderful spoon player Rufus Jones. In true field recording tradition you can hear little children playing in the background. More of his sides can be found on George Mitchell Collection Vol. 5. Thomas plays some fine finger picking reminiscent of John Hurt but not as refined, and possesses a deep, rich voice as he delivers old time numbers like "Rabbit On A Log", "Raise A Ruckus Tonight" and showcases some slide on the fine "My Three Woman."

Teddy Williams and William "Do Boy" Diamond were both recorded in Canton, Mississippi in 1967 on subsequent days. Diamond was a basic guitar player but possessed a great, relaxed voice. "Hard Time Blues" is a magnificent number, sharing the same haunting quality of some of Skip James' numbers. More of his sides can be found on George Mitchell Collection Vol. 5. It's suggested the older Williams may have taught Diamond, and he too is a powerful singer in a similar style. Mitchell's trip to Mississippi in 1967 was an extremely fruitful one and in addition to the above artists he recorded stunning sides by Houston Stackhouse (in a trio with Robert Nighthawk and Peck Curtis plus Carey "Ditty" Mason on some sides). It was a fortuitous recordings as Nighthawk died a few months later followed by Mason in 1969 and Curtis in 1970. These highly regarded sides have been issued before on Arhoolie and Testament. In addition there is some unissued material by Nighthawk and Stackhouse that should be of major interest to collectors. Also recorded during this trip were some powerhouse sides by Fred McDowell and harpist Johnny Woods and the wonderful Joe Callicott who's long been a favorite of mine. Only three songs apiece are included by each artist but each has full length CD's available on Fat Possum, both of which come highly recommended.

Other older, established players Mitchell recorded were Buddy Moss in 1963 and Dewey Corley in 1967. Mitchell found Moss through Peg Leg Howell (who he also recorded although his sides have not been reissued). Moss was part of the the great Atlanta blue scene of the 1930's working with Barbecue Bob, Curley Weaver, Blind Willie McTell as well as recording prolifically between 1933 and 1941. He was a forgotten man when Mitchell recorded him but the six sides included here find him in superb form. A moody and difficult character (a 1976 interview with Robert Springer was titled So I Said 'The Hell with It: A Difficult Interview with Eugene 'Buddy' Moss) his comeback never took off like it should, although Atlanta Blues Legend recorded in 1966 and issued on Biograph is quite good. Jug band veteran Dewey Corley is also in good form playing vigorous kazoo and one-stringed bass backed by Walter Miller on guitar on three loose, fun numbers.

Disc three features a trio of fine players from Georgia recorded in 1969: Bud White, Jim Bunkley and George Henry Bussey. Like many of the artists Mitchell found, none were professional musicians but all are quite good. White was a percussive guitar player with a high, rich voice, Bussey had a light, gently propulsive style and good voice while Mitchell describes Bunkley's style as a"frolicking" sound in contrast to the harder Mississippi style. Both Bussey and Bunkley were paired on the 1971 album George Henry Bussey and Jim Bunkley issued on Revival.

Mitchell also recorded a fair number of religious material including gospel singers and marvelous slide players, Leon Pinson and Green Paschal, both who play stirring gospel inflected blues. Pinson worked with the great singer/harmonica player Elder Roma Wilson early in his career and reunited with him when Wilson was rediscovered in the 80's, with the duo having a fair bit of success on the festival circuit. Pinson is a major artist with fine understated baritone and a ringing slide style. The stunner is "What God Can Do" sung in a beautiful crooning style, dipping occasionally into falsetto. It only lasts a minute-and-a-half but the depth of feeling resonates long after the song concludes. Paschal was a rough expressive singer and exciting, percussive slide player who comes across as a less intense version of Son House.

Cecil Barfield – Lucy Mae Blues (MP3)

John Lee Ziegler – If I Lose Let Me Lose (MP3)

Lonzie Thomas – My Three Woman (MP3)

William 'Do Boy' Diamond – Hard Time Blues (MP3)

Leon Pinson – What God Can Do (MP3)

The complete Blue Horizon Sessions Curtis Jones In London

By the time he succumbed to a heart attack in 1971 Curtis Jones was a sad, embittered man who – rightly I would say – viewed himself as the forgotten man of the blues, watching from the sidelines while others from his era were greeted with far more enthusiasm and fame. His passing was greeted with little fanfare and in a final indignity his grave was unceremoniously sold eight years later because no one had paid for its upkeep.

The intervening years have done nothing to raise to Jones' profile; his records have not been well represented on the reissue market and mention of his music to fellow blues fans is often greeted with indifference. To put it frankly his records are considered "boring" by most blues fans. The very qualities which made him popular among the black record buying public of the 1930's and 1940's were not exactly the qualities white enthusiasts prized. His talents were perhaps too subtle for the new white audience: his deep, unfussy piano playing was very much in the service of the song and decidedly unshowy, he was an expressive singer with a high, tight tenor with a way of putting across a song that really connected with the audience and he was an exceptional, imaginative lyricist. As Tony Russell wrote, somewhat uncharitably, in the Penguin Guide To Blues: "…Over the next four years [1937-1941] Jones turned out dozens of blues-and-trouble compositions, sung in the bleak Texas manner of men like Black Boy Shine to tidy, unexciting piano accompaniments."Closer to the mark was Paul Oliver who in the notes to In London wrote: "He is the bluesman's blues singer. All that he plays and sings is blues, but it cannot be lightly asserted that he represents the blues of Texas, where he was born, or of the West where he worked for some years. His is not merely 'Chicago blues', though he lived there for a quarter of a century. And how does one type a blues singer who has made Paris, France, his home?"

Curtis Jones
Courtesy American Folk Music Occasional, 1970

Our story picks up in Europe where Jones settled in the early 1960's after almost twenty years without stepping into a studio, outside of a couple of 1953 sides for Parrot. Before packing his bags for Europe he waxed a pair of fine stateside comeback records; Trouble Blues (Bluesville, 1960) and Lonesome Bedroom Blues (Delmark, 1962) which found his talents undimmed by the passage of time. Over in Europe he would record two more superb albums; In London (Decca, 1963) and Now Resident In Europe (Blue Horizon, 1968) reissued, remastered and rounded out with unissued sides as Curtis Jones: The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions. It was Mike Vernon who we have to thank for both sessions as he writes in the excellent liner notes: "To be totally honest, Curtis Jones represented a bygone era and his particular style and sound was not at one with the current trends and developments in the blues world at the time. …It should be remembered that I, in particular, had been the only producer who had the courage to record him – not once, but twice. Most others might well have not taken the risk, if the truth were to be told."

I, for one, am glad he took the chance as it paid off handsomely. The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions consists of the original ten songs plus brief interview, a batch of alternate takes and the previously unissued "Blues On The Scene." Backed by a strong rhythm section of Brian Brocklehurst on upright bass and Dougie Wright on drums, Jones is in superb form stretching out with some gorgeous piano solos and singing marvelously on this well recorded date that features songs he hadn't recorded before. Jones sounds particularly extroverted on a number of selections including the shuffling "You Don't Have To Go" stretching out with some sparkling piano work, the insistent drive of "Cherie", positively cooks on the bouncy, declamatory "Gee, Pretty Baby" and delivers the spirited, inventive instrumental "Dryburgh Drive" (named after the street the studio resided on). Jones is at his plaintive best on the lovely ballad "I Want To Be Your Slave" and displays his skills as a guitarist on several sparse numbers. Guitar was his first instrument and he first revealed his talent on the instrument on his Decca album. His picking is basic but effective on on solo numbers such as "Morocco Blues", "Jane", "Blues On The Scene" and the heartfelt, beautifully sung "Soul Brother Blues." As on all of the Blue Horizon reissues, packaging is excellent with lengthy notes, nice photos and pristine sound.

Now Resident In EuropeListening to The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions prompted me to reacquaint myself with In London which I hadn't listened to in ages. I've been informed that this has made it on to CD on the Deram label which may itself be out of print although copies look to be still available. Despite extremely lean times, Jones sailed into his 1960's comeback as an artist at the height of his powers as he ably demonstrates on In London backed by sympathetic band featuring bassist Jack Fallon, drummer Eddie Taylor and Alexis Korner on guitar on a few numbers. The program is a mix of old classics like "Lonesome Bedroom Blues", Alleybound Blues", "You Got Good Business" plus items he had been playing for his European audiences, numbers like Percy Mayfield's “Please Send Me Someone To Love”, the rollicking instrumental, "Young Generation Boogie", based on the Ray Charles instrumental "Rockhouse" and the charming "Syl-Vous Play Blues." Jones revives classic piano pieces including an elegant version of "The Honeydripper", "Curtis Jones Boogie", his version of the timeless "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" and the rocking "Shake It Baby." Of the guitar pieces, "Skid Row" is the standout, the kind of seedy life blues tale Jones so excelled at conjuring up. Paul Oliver provides a fine set of notes for the original LP which have been reprinted in Blues Off The Record.

Both of these records come recommended and one hopes that the reissue of The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions will spark some renewed interest in Curtis Jones although that may be, admittedly, wishful thinking. I'll be spotlighting the music of Jones in an upcoming radio program so keep an eye out. For a well written piece on Jones I make available, with the author's permission, an article written in Jefferson magazine no. 124, 2000: Curtis Jones: The Lonesome Bedroom Blues (PDF)

You Don't Have To Go [Blue Horizon Sessions] (MP3)

Soul Brother Blues [Blue Horizon Sessions] (MP3)

Shake It Baby [In London] (MP3)

Syl-Vous Play Blues [In London] (MP3)


Rocks The Blues
RIP 1931 – 2007


Show Notes:

By now everyone knows that Ike Turner has passed. Just about every notable publication had an obituary or opinion on Ike and not surprisingly many focused on his well publicized troubles instead of his musical legacy. Serious blues and rock fans know that well before Tina, Ike was a major player on the R&B and blues scene of the 1950's.

Ike and his Kings of Rhythm were right in the thick of things when blues and R&B was coalescing into rock and roll. Ike made his mark as rock solid boogie piano player and was also a distinctive guitarist with a biting tone who was one of the first to make the whammy bar an integral part of his sound. Growing up in Clarksdale Ike's first inspiration was pianist Pinetop Perkins who also inspired Ike's life long friend Ernest Lane. "Anyway", he recalled, "we started talkin' to Pinetop and he started teaching us different little boogie-woogie things. And from there, that started my musical life." It should be noted that Lane was still touring with Ike at the time of death and remains a fine piano player in his own right, and is one of the last who plays in the rock ribbed, boogie based style.

I'm Lonesome Baby 78As a teenager talked himself into a DJ slot on the local radio station, where he played everything from the jump blues of Louis Jordan to country & western. He formed his first band while still in high school, and by the late '40s had assembled an outfit dubbed the Kings of Rhythm. After “Rocket 88” Turner and his band became session regulars around Memphis; they went on to back legendary bluesmen like Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Bobby Bland, Jr. Parker, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and a host of Sun artists . During the early '50s, Turner switched from piano to guitar, and also doubled as a talent scout for the Bihari Brothers' Los Angeles-based Modern Records, where he helped get early breaks for artists like Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King. For many years Turner was the linchpin of Modern, working as a talent scout for Joe Bihari, a go-getter, a good pair of hands in the studio, and a fine musician to boot. On today's program we feature sides by Howlin' Wolf, Charley Booker, Elmore James, Driftin' Slim and Baby Face Turner all featuring Ike's piano.

Ike TurnerAlso featured today are many sides Ike cut with the mighty Kings of Rhythm, some of which came were issued variously as Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm, Ike Turner and His Orchestra and other variations. The Kings of Rhythm employed several fine vocalists including Jackie Brenston, Billy Gayles, Billy Emerson, Dennis Binder, Clayton Love, Lonnie "The Cat", Johnny Wright. Many of these sides were issued under the singer's name and we feature a number of these sides on today's show. In addition we feature many of Ike's many scorching instrumentals. Ike’s ferocious whammy-bar and ultra-aggressive string-bending solos were way ahead of their time from the mid-1950s onwards. He always considered himself foremost a boogie pianist who picked up electric guitar during the early 1950s because he had difficulty finding a reliable axeman for his band. "It sounds like I was a guitar player," said Ike. "But I'm not." We counter that claim by playing a number of Ike's jaw dropping guitar workouts like "Loosely (The Wild One)," "Go To It (Stringin' Along),""Prancing, "The New Breed" among others.

King CobraIke relocated to St. Louis in he late 50's frontong one of the hottest live acts in the area. The late 50's were leaner times for Ike cutting an unissued session for Sun, scattered 45's for Cobra/Artistic in Chicago (backing Otis Rush, Betty Everett, Buddy Guy in addition to cutting thier own material). Though his hitmaking activities with Tina began to relegate Ike's wild guitar to the background from 1960 on, he found time to cut an instrumental album for Sue in 1962 called Dance With Ike & Tina Turner’s Kings of Rhythm. Ike Turner Rocks The Blues was issued on Crown in 1963 and was a collection of his 50’s sides. Ike and Tina did cut a couple of solid blues based albums for Blue Thumb in 1969; Outta Season and The Hunter which actually featured an uncredited Albert Collins on guitar. Also in 1969 when he was out on tour in 1969 with his regular gig, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, Ike Turner cut the instrumental album A Black Man's Soul which was reissued by Funky Delicacies in 2003 with bonus cuts. Strange Fruit was another instrumental outing cut in 1972 for United Artists and the aptly titled Blues Roots was also cut for United Artists in 1972.

Ike has been well served on CD reissues. Among those featured on today's show include: Traiblazer (Charly) a collection of late 50's sides for Federal, Ike Turner: 1958-1959 (reissued by Fuel 2000 as King Cobra: The Chicago Sessions) a collection of his Cobra sides, Rhythm Rockin' Blues a collection of early-'50s sessions with the Kings of Rhythm, Ike's Instrumentals, Blues Kingpins a 18-track collection drawn from the vaults of RPM, Modern, Crown, and Sue. InRhythm Rockin' Blues addition Ike's role as talent scout is meticulously documented on the 4-CD Ace label series Modern Downhome Blues Session which collects sides Joe Bihari and Ike Turner recorded in the deep South for Modern between 1951 and early 1952. Notewriter Jim O'Neal sets the scene for these recordings: "The tale of their [the Bihari brothers] exploits in the land of cotton has all the elements of a Dixie docu-drama, complete with an indignant Southern heroine [Lillian McMurry of Trumpet Records], a double-dealing native talent scout [Ike Turner], small town sheriffs and police, subterfuge, disguise, raiders, traitors, spies, and clandestine operations. But no shots were fired in these skirmishes, and the only casualties were in lost record sales revenue, broken contracts, violated trusts, and one unfortunate blues artist's shattered career. The Biharis' battle wagon was a flashy new Cadillac, their artillery a four-channel Magnecord tape recorder, and their ammunition reels of magnetic tape and rolls of cash."

Ike Before Tina

Ike Turner New York Times Obit

Ike Turner Discography


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