1960’s Blues

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



Show Notes:

From late 1958 into the early 60s, Junior Parker toured the country with a show called Blues Consolidated with long time running mate Bobby Bland and Willa Mae Thornton with a combo led by Duke Records veteran Joe Scott. Today's show spotlights both of the remarkable singers who rose to prominence in the early 1950's on the fertile Memphis blues scene.

Junior parker PhotoJunior Parker was an extraordinary blues singer and harmonica player who laid down some superb material over the course of a twenty-year career (1952-1971) before his life was cut short just prior to his fortieth birthday. It’s inexplicable, then, why he has such a low profile among blues aficionados. He hit the charts a fair bit through the 1960’s for Duke, retained a strong following among the black club audience but failed to break through to a wider audience. As such he was virtually ignored by the new white blues audience of the 1960’s. If Parker is mentioned at all these days it’s usually in association with his 1953 number “Mystery Train” which was picked up by Elvis.

Parker learned his initial harmonica style from Sonny Boy Williamson II and gigged with the Howlin' Wolf while still in his teens. Like so many young blues artists, Little Junior (as he was known then) got his first recording opportunity from talent scout Ike Turner, who brought him to Modern Records for his debut session as a leader in 1952. It produced the lone single "You're My Angel" b/w "Bad Woman, Bad Whiskey" with Turner on piano and Matt Murphy on guitar. Parker and his band, the Blue Flames (including FloydBland/Park Parker Poster Murphy, Matt's brother, on guitar), landed at Sun Records in 1953 and promptly scored a hit with their rollicking "Feelin' Good." Later that year, Parker cut "Love My Baby" and "Mystery Train."

Before 1953 was through, Junior Parker had moved on to Don Robey's Duke label in Houston. It took a while for the harpist to regain his hitmaking momentum, but he scored big in 1957 with the "Next Time You See Me." Parker developed a horn driven sound (usually the work of trumpeter/Duke-house-bandleader Joe Scott) that added power to his vocals and harp solos. Parker's updated remake of Roosevelt Sykes's "Driving Wheel" was a huge R&B hit in 1961, as was "In the Dark."

Parker continued to hit the charts through the 60’s with a mix of blues and R&B scoring with songs like “Sweet Home Chicago”, “Annie Get Your Yo-Yo”, “Man Or Mouse”, “Someone Somewhere.” Once Parker split from Robey's employ in 1966 the hits began to wane. From 1966-1968 he recorded for Mercury and its Blue Rock subsidiary and cut sides for Capitol in 1970. Parker died in November 1971 during an operation for a brain tumor. Before he passed he sailed into the 1970’s in promising fashion cutting a pair of terrific albums; “You Don’t Have To Be Black To Love The Blues” circa 1970/1971 for Groove Merchant and “I Tell Stories Sad And True” for United Artists which was released in 1972. In 2001, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

That Man LPFor all his promise, Bland's musical career started slowly. He was a founding member of the Beale Streeters, the famous Memphis aggregation that also included B.B. King and Johnny Ace. He cut singles for Chess in (produced by Sam Phillips) and Modern in 1951 that failed to catch on. Bland hooked up with Duke in 1952 cutting a few singles before entering the army. Bland always had a great voice but his early sides were a bit rough around the edges. But his progress upon his 1955 return was remarkable; with saxist Bill Harvey's band providing support, Bland sounded much more assured.

Most of Bland's sides during the mid- to late '50s featured the slashing guitar of Clarence Hollimon, notably "I Smell Trouble," "I Don't Believe," "Don't Want No Woman," "You Got Me (Where You Want Me)," the torrid "Loan a Helping Hand" and "Teach Me (How to Love You)." But the guitar riffs guiding Bland's first national hit, 1957's "Farther Up the Road," were contributed by Pat Hare. Later, WayneBobby Bland Revue Poster Bennett took over on guitar, his fret work prominent on Bland's Duke waxings throughout much of the '60s. "Farther Up the Road” was a #1 R&B hit, the first of more than 20 R&B top ten records. During this period Bland toured the Southern chitlin circuit incessantly. Joe Scott steered Bland into smoother material as the decade turned; a mixture of blues, R&B, and soul on numbers like"I Pity the Fool," "I'll Take Care of You," and "Two Steps From the Blues" which were tremendously influential. Scott's brass arrangements provided the perfect backing on Bland's rockers like "Turn on Your Love Light" in 1961 and "Yield Not to Temptation" the next year.

In 1973, Don Robey sold his labels to ABC Records, and Bland was part of the deal. Without Joe Scott and his familiar surroundings to lean on, Bland's releases grew less consistent although "His California Album" in 1973 and 1974's "Dreamer" had some nice moments. Bland re-teamed with his old pal B.B. King for a couple of mid-'70s albums. Since the mid-'80s, Bland has recorded Malaco Records. His last album was "Blues At midnight" in 2003.


Kennedy's Blues

Kennedy's Blues is the third volume in Guido Van Rijn's groundbreaking series of books focusing on topical blues and gospel songs. The critically praised Roosevelt Blues kicked off the series in 1997, an examination of all the blues and gospel songs during Roosevelt's administration that contained political commentary and doing the same with 2004's The Truman And Eisenhower Blues. In Kennedy's Blues Rijn turns his attention on the Kennedy years (1961-1963) once again exhaustively analyzing seemingly every blues and gospel song with political content and providing an invaluable and previously untapped source on how Kennedy was viewed in the African American community.

Roosevelt was considered the "poor man's friend" and the lyrical evidence suggests he was viewed "as a benevolent and powerful patron or 'bossman'" while Truman was seen as much more fallible and "unresponsive to the economic plight of black people as well as their growing demands for equal rights." Kennedy's reputation, particularly in the early years, was rather ambivalent but his death, as the lyrical evidence makes clear, "virtually eradicated any criticism of his international or political policies and left him an unadulterated hero."

In his perceptive foreword, Brian Ward notes that "Kennedy's Blues can be said to feature a series of musical 'editorials' on the state of black America and it's collective investment in the promise of the Kennedy administration during the early 1960's." In addition, of course, are the large cache of memorial songs Rijn examines in the wake of Kennedy's tragic murder. Particularly valuable is Rijn's examination of recorded sermons and the records by black comedians like Slappy White and Dick Gregory. As Rijn notes, this book, like the previous volumes, attempts to "restore the silenced voices" and "lost consciousness" of African Americans. The difference is that overt political commentary was rare in recorded blues and gospel prior to the 1960's but became increasingly more common afterwards; 95 percent of the songs in the book were issued while in Roosevelt's era it was 22 percent and 20 percent in the Truman and Eisenhower eras. In all 131 songs are mentioned (89 studied in full) with chapters dealing with the Kennedy myth, cold war, space race, economy, civil rights and the assassination.

While overt criticism against Kennedy, like FDR, was virtually nonexistent there was, as in previous eras, many songs concerned about war and the economy. The draft (300,000 were called up in the winter of 1961) and the Bay of Pigs were primary concerns in the chapter JFK Says I've Got To Go: songs documented include Wilbert Harrison's "Drafted", Lightnin' Hopkins' "War Is Starting Again", Bo Diddley's "Mr. Krushchev", J.D. Short's harrowing "Fighting For Dear Old Uncle Sam" among others. Unemployment and poverty cast a shadow over the Kennedy era as documented in the chapter named after the Freddy King song, The Welfare Turns Its Back On You: songs examined include Jimmy Lee Robinson's "Times Is Hard", Chuck Brown "Hard Times At My Door" and Emmanuel Laskey's "Welfare Cheese" to cite a few.

The lengthiest chapters, March On, Dr. Martin Luther King and The Day The World Stood Still, deal with the increasingly turbulent civil rights movement and the assassination of Kennedy. Rijn tackled the movement's beginnings in The Truman And Eisenhower Blues in the chapters "The Freedom Choo Choo" dealing with the mid to late 40's and in "Alabama Bus" when the mass civil rights movement began to coalesce in the 50's. As Champion Jack Dupree explained: "I don't know anything about politics and that thing but I have seen the mess they have done out of people's life. I've seen these things, so when I sing I can really sing what's going on. If I stand on a box and tell people of all the wrong in the world, people wouldn't listen. But if I sing it on records all around the world everybody will know. That's the way we have to get our message out in the world to the people. …We couldn't stand up like the white men and speak. If we did, we would be killed or put in jail."

Not surprisingly Kennedy's assassination provoked an outpouring of memorial songs where "the deceased president emerges as a near-saint. As Rijn notes, "the blues and gospel singers' president was in heaven now. Like Christ he had died for our sins." Indeed Kennedy's death is often compared to the crucification of Christ a theme hammered home in gospel songs and sermons like Rev. Omie L. Holliday's "The Assassination of President Kennedy and the Crucification of Christ." The popularity of recorded sermons in the 1920's and 1930's was revived in the 1960's (now benefiting from the LP where sermons could be recorded in full) and Rijn goes at length to examine several of these which provide a rich vein of social commentary.

"Kennedy's Blues", like previous volumes, is an invaluable and illuminating look at the forgotten voices and opinions of African Americans "at a crucial, transitional moment in the black experience, just as a new era of mass activism and protest began." Through prodigious research and examining sources long ignored, Rijn has skillfully brought this era into sharper focus. I also have it on good authority that Rijn plans further sequels which is certainly good news.

As with previous books there is a companion CD featuring 28 of the songs discussed in the book. To order the CD visit: http://home.tiscali.nl/guido/kennedy-blues.htm


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