1960’s Blues


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Show Notes:

The American Folk Blues Festival was an annual event that featured the cream of American blues musicians barnstorming their way across Europe beginning in 1962. German jazz publicist Joachim-Ernst Berendt first had the idea of bringing original blues performers to Europe and thought that European audiences would flock to concert halls to see them in person. Promoters Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau would bring this idea to reality with the help of Willie Dixon. Dixon acted as talent scout, agent and recruited Chicago artists for the tour. The first festival was held in 1962, and they continued almost annually until 1972, after an eight-year hiatus reviving the festival in 1980 until its final performance in 1985. The impact of these annual tours had a profound impact on those that were in attendance. Future stars such as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page any many others were in the audience and were directly influenced by what they saw. The rise of blues based bands like the The Rolling Stones, Yardbirds and Animals can be directly attributed to the AFBF.

The AFBF concerts have been well served on CD. The early years are collected on Evidence's 5-CD box American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1965 which also has a well written booklet by Bill Dahl. For the less committed there's the single CD American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1965: Highlights. The Bellaphon label has issued the following sets: American Folk Blues Festival 1965/1966/1967/1969 (4-CD), American Folk Blues Festival 1970/1972/1980/1981 (4-CD) and American Folk Blues Festival 1982/1983/1985 (3-CD). There's also many single CD collections. For a complete discography visit the AFBF discography. There's also four DVD's of footage available through Hip-O Records which are highly recommended.

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Tommy Johnson

I've been thinking about Tommy Johnson and his influence lately. For someone who recorded so little his influence was unusually vast and long lasting; after all his recorded output only consists of six issued sides for Victor in 1928 and six issued sides for Paramount in 1929. A welcome surprise in recent years has been the discovery of several recordings of unissued material. It was Johnson's Victor sides that were the most influential and oft covered: "Cool Drink of Water Blues", "Big Road Blues", "Bye-Bye Blues", "Maggie Campbell Blues", "Canned Heat Blues" and "Big Fat Mama." Unlike the Paramount records these sold fairly well and were apparently the songs Johnson sang most often in person.

It was David Evans investigation into Johnson in the late 1960's that we owe a good deal of what we know about Johnson and it was through Evans' field recordings that Johnson's influence comes into sharper focus. Evans had this to say regarding Johnson's influence: "Johnson exerted almost no musical influence, either in person or through his records, on blues singers outside the state of Mississippi. …Furthermore, none of his songs, was a big enough hit to enter the folk tradition significantly in its recorded from. Instead, his records tended to act as a reinforcement of the playing of men who had already learned the songs from him in person, and as a stabilizing force within the tradition. …Versions of Johnson's songs derive exclusively from personal contact, though many of the artists undoubtedly heard Johnson's records at one time or other."

Evans recorded many men who learned directly from Johnson including Roosevelt Holts, Boogie Bill Webb, Arzo Youngblood, Isaac Youngblood, Bubba Brown, Babe Stovall, Houston Stackhouse and Tommy's brother Mager Johnson. Others who were directly influenced by Johnson include K.C. Douglas, Shirley Griffith, Jim Brewer, Joe and Charlie McCoy, Bo Carter, Johnnie Temple, Robert Nighthawk (at least indirectly through Houston Stackhouse) and several others. While I've been listening primarily to later recordings that bear Johnson's influence, his influence can be heard on many earlier recordings: Willie Lofton's "Dark Road Blues" (1935) and the Mississippi Sheiks "Stop and Listen Blues" (1930) were covers of "Big Road Blues", The McCoy Brothers recorded "Going Back Home" (1934) which was a version of "Cool Drink of Water Blues", Robert Nighthawk recorded versions of "Maggie Campbell Blues" in 1953 and 1964 and K.C. Douglas recorded "Canned Heat Blues" in 1956 and 1961. In addition elements from some of Johnson's songs show up in the blues of several other early blues artists.

As I mentioned it's the 1960's and 1970's recordings that I've mainly been listening to lately. Unfortunately a good many of these have never been issued on CD and many of the artists are little remembered today. Take for example Shirley Griffith, a wonderful singer and guitarist who learned first hand from Johnson as a teenager in Mississippi. Griffith missed his opportunity to record as a young man but recorded three superb albums, all of which are long out of print: Indiana Ave. Blues (1964, with partner J.T. Adams), Saturday Blues (1965) and Mississippi Blues (1973). Roosevelt Holts spent time working with Johnson and was married to Johnson's cousin. He was sixty by the time he recorded and the bulk of his slim output remains out of print including two fine albums: Presenting The Country Blues (1966) and Roosevelt Holts and Friends (1970). Also long out of print are several important collections of Evans' field recordings that gather artists influenced by Johnson. Most importantly is The Legacy of Tommy Johnson (1972), the companion LP to Evans' Tommy Johnson biography featuring all songs that were in Johnson's repertoire and all of which were learned by the artists from Johnson himself. In addition there's South Mississippi Blues (1974 ?, Isaac Youngblood, Babe Stovall, Roosevelt Holts and more) and Goin' Up The Country (1968, Roosevelt Holts, Arzo Youngblood, Mager Johnson, Boogie Bill Webb and more). There was a planned (apparently compiled and notes written) companion album to Evans' book Big Road Blues but for whatever reason this was never issued.

All of this ruminating about Johnson's legacy will result in a show that I have slated for December 30, my final radio show of the year. I'll be playing many of the discussed records, several of Johnson's own sides and if all goes well an interview with David Evans who I just talked with the other day. It should be a nice way to end the first year of the show and a fitting one for a show called Big Road Blues.

Arzo Youngblood – Bye and Bye Blues (MP3)

Shirley Griffith – Maggie Campbell Blues (MP3)

Roosevelt Holts – Big Road Blues (MP3)

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Softee Man Blues Mr. Scrapper's Blues

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Show Notes:

From 1949 through 1971, Prestige Records, owned and run by Bob Weinstock, was among the most famous and successful of the independent jazz labels. Perhaps only Blue Note, which had its reign during roughly the same period, provided Prestige with significant competition. By the late 50's the company was looking to branch out and new categories were created within the Prestige catalog. There was the Folklore series, there was Moodsville, Swingsville and then there was Bluesville. The birth of Bluesville came at a time when when a young white audience turned their attention away from folk music to acoustic blues.

Shake 'Em On DownAn important factor was the release in 1959 of Samuel Charter's ground breaking book The Country Blues. In 1961 Charter's hooked up with the label and played a important role getting talent for the label and did much of the producing. In addition to Charters there were a number of others whose dedication helped the label grow including Mack McCormick of Houston who provided a slew of Lightnin' Hopkins records,Chris Strachwitz who would form Arhoolie Records, Art Rosenbaum who recorded Indianapolis artists Scrapper Blackwell, Shirley Griffith and J.T. Adams and Chris Albertson who was instrumental in getting Lonnie Johnson back in the studio.

Bluesville's roster grew quickly including artists such as Reverend Gary Davis, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Roosevelt Sykes, Big Joe Williams, Jimmy Witherspoon and Memphis Slim among numerous others. A number of older artists such as Tampa Red and particularly Lonnie Johnson found a new home at Bluesville in which to revitalize their careers. In addition the label also caught some important artists on record for the first time or who recorded very little including Pink Anderson (except for two sides cut in the 20's), Baby Tate, Wade Walton and Doug Quattlebaum to name a few. The Bluesville label tended to take a mainly folkloric approach to blues recording primarily acoustic artists. In line with this the label also cut records by folk singers such as Tracy Nelson, Dave Van Ronk, Geoff Muldaur and Tom Rush among others. There were some notable exceptions including LP's by urban artists such as Otis Spann, Billy Boy Arnold and Homesick James.

Tired of WanderingThe Bluesville series produced many releases in a short amount of time. Lightnin' Hopkins was the label's best selling artists but many of the lesser known artists sold only a couple of hundred copies. Because of this many of these original records are extremely rare and go for high fees on the collectibles market. Luckily Fantasy records now owns the Prestige catalog and has been reissuing many treasures from the vaults.

Samuel Charters was quoted as saying that the "Prestige/Bluesville catalog was one of the last great sweeps of the blues as social document and as the years pass this becomes increasingly meaningful as a measure of Bluesville's achievement." Listening to The Bluesville Years (an ongoing reissue series now at 12 volumes) make these words resonate all the more strongly. The recordings on the Bluesville label provide a vivid and entertaining snapshot of the 1960's blues scene.

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oakland Blue

Once again we dust off and review another fine out of print blues record. Oakland Blues was arranged/directed by Jimmy McCracklin and contains excellent performances cut in 1968-69 by three severely under recorded artists: L.C. "Good Rockin'" Robinson, Lafayette Thomas and Dave Alexander. The record was issued on the World Pacific label (originally Pacific Jazz) which was mainly a jazz label although they issued some good blues records notably by Big Joe Williams (”Hand Me Down My Old Walking Stick”), George Smith (”Blues With A Feeling: A Tribute To Little Walter”), Luke ‘Long Gone’ Miles (”Country Born”) and “Down South Summit Meeting” by Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Big Joe Williams among others. Some of this material has been issued on CD by Capitol/EMI which owns the rights but Oakland Blues remains long out of print.

The five L.C. Robinson tracks that make up side one are, incredibly, his first recordings since waxing a lone record for the Rhythm label back in 1954 ("If I Lose You Baby" b/w "Why Don't You Write To Me"). He also cut four sides for the Black & White label in 1945 as the Robinson Brothers with his brother A.C. Robinson. Robinson was a dynamic performer who played guitar and fiddle, but was really known for his incredible steel guitar style. Robinson's fluid steel playing and laconic, yet impassioned singing is heard in fine fashion on "Clean Your House" the blazing instrumental "Jack Rabbit Boogie" and the shuffling "Bring My Baby Back Home" the latter two featuring some sparkling boogie piano from Dave Alexander. On "Train Time" he proves himself equally capable playing standard guitar. These tracks, sans the latter, also boast the sizzling guitar work of Lafayette Thomas which makes a nice contrast with Robinson's steel playing. Robinson only got a couple of more opportunities to record; in the 1970's he cut the outstanding House Cleanin' Blues for Bluesway which has not been issued on CD and the excellent Ups And Downs for Arhoolie which has been reissued with bonus tracks as Mojo In My Hand.

Lafayette Thomas was a brilliant T-Bone Walker influenced guitar player who's stinging fret work can be heard on numerous recordings by Jimmy McCracklin, Jimmy Wilson, Roy Hawkins, Juke Boy Bonner and many others. He was the perfect session man, one who made every record he was on sound better. During his lifetime only a scant fifteen sides were issued under his own name (a number were left unissued). The three songs here were unfortunately his last recordings under his own name. Thomas is in masterful form cutting loose on the rocking "Party With Me" laying down knotty, blistering T-Bone Walker like runs while putting it on simmer on "I Had A Dream" backed prominently by L.C. Robinson's shimmering steel guitar and the insinuating, mellow blues of "A Fool's Way Of Doin' Things" the latter two showcasing Thomas' fine soulful singing, an aspect of his talent that usually gets overlooked. As far as I know the only recordings he did after these were some 1970's session work with Sugar Pie DeSanto.

Pianist Dave Alexander (later known as Omar Sharriff) makes his debut here with three songs in the company of heavyweights Albert Collins and George "Harmonica" Smith. Collins was hooked up with Imperial during this period which may be why he's listed as the Houston Twister although Pete Welding mentions him by name in the liner notes. Perhaps the best number is the six minute "Love Is Just For Fools" a fine low down ensemble cut underpinned by big toned, mournful blowing from Smith and crisp stinging guitar from Collins. For his part, Alexander is a deliberate, easy going vocalist and versatile pianist at home playing boogies or more introspectively. "Good Soul Music" is more in a rock and roll vein boasting some wailing harp and rollicking boogie piano while "Highway 59"is a steamy instrumental with a bit of a soul-jazz feel featuring excellent ensemble playing from everybody. Alexander has recorded sporadically since this session cutting a pair of albums for Arhoolie in the early 1970's and after a lengthy hiatus a record in the 1990's with his latest issued in 2004.

Lafayette Thomas – Party With Me (MP3)

Dave Alexander – Love Is Just For Fools (MP3)

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