Sun 7 Jul 2013
|Willie Mabon||Michelle||I Blueskvarter Vol. 1|
|Willie Mabon||Interview||I Blueskvarter Vol. 1|
|Willie Mabon||I'm Hungry||I Blueskvarter Vol. 1|
|James Brewer||I Don't Want No Woman, She Got Hair Like Drops Of Rain||I Blueskvarter Vol. 1|
|James Brewer||Interview||I Blueskvarter Vol. 1|
|James Brewer||Big Road Blues||I Blueskvarter Vol. 1|
|Eddie Boyd||Five Long Years||I Blueskvarter Vol. 1|
|Eddie Boyd||Interview||I Blueskvarter Vol. 1|
|Eddie Boyd||Her Picture In A Frame||I Blueskvarter Vol. 1|
|Johnny Young||Why Did You Break My Heart||I Blueskvarter Vol. 1|
|Johnny Young||Better Cut It Out||I Blueskvarter Vol. 1|
|Sunnyland Slim||It's You Baby||I Blueskvarter Vol. 1|
|Sunnyland Slim||Sunnyland's Jump||I Blueskvarter Vol. 1|
|Walter Horton||Trouble In Mind||I Blueskvarter Vol. 1|
|Walter Horton||Louise Louise||I Blueskvarter Vol. 1|
|Walter Horton||Let's Have A Good Time||I Blueskvarter Vol. 1|
|Washboard Sam||Booker T Blues||I Blueskvarter Vol. 2|
|Washboard Sam||All By Myself||I Blueskvarter Vol. 2|
|John Lee Granderson||Easy Street||I Blueskvarter Vol. 2|
|John Lee Granderson||Interview||I Blueskvarter Vol. 2|
|Avery Brady||Gangster's Blues||I Blueskvarter Vol. 2|
|Avery Brady||Interview||I Blueskvarter Vol. 2|
|Little Brother Montgomery||West Texas Blues||I Blueskvarter Vol. 2|
|Little Brother Montgomery||Interview||I Blueskvarter Vol. 2|
|Little Brother Montgomery||Up The Country Blues||I Blueskvarter Vol. 2|
|Arvella Gray||John Henry||I Blueskvarter Vol. 2|
|Arvella Gray||Interview||I Blueskvarter Vol. 2|
|St. Louis Jimmy||Can't Stand Your Evil Ways||I Blueskvarter Vol. 2|
|St. Louis Jimmy||Poor Boy Blues||I Blueskvarter Vol. 2|
|Big Joe Williams||Southern Blues||I Blueskvarter Vol. 3|
|Big Joe Williams||Rootin' Groundhog||I Blueskvarter Vol. 3|
Today's show is part one in a series of shows devoted to Chicago blues of the 1960's. Today we spotlight remarkable recordings made for a documentary titled I Blueskvarter, Swedish for In Blues Quarters. The bulk of today's notes come from Scott Baretta who wrote the notes for the series; Scott also edited the Swedish blues magazine Jefferson, is currently the host of the Highway 61 radio show for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, is head writer and researcher (with Jim O’Neal) for the Mississippi Blues Trail, and former editor of Living Blues magazine. In fact it was through Scott that I got a copy of the first volume of I Blueskvarter more than a decade ago.
These recordings were made by Olle Helander, a radio host for the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation who traveled to Chicago in 1964 for the express purpose of recording the blues. In addition there were trips to New Orleans and Memphis all of which were the raw material for the 21 part documentary radio series I Bluekvarter which first aired on Swedish Radio in the Autumn of 1964. Outside of poor sounding bootlegs, these recordings sat on the shelf for over thirty years until release in the beginning in the late 1990's by the folks who run the Swedish blues magazine Jefferson. The recordings were released as three 2- CD sets and feature intimate recordings by Willie Mabon, James Brewer, Champion Eddie Boyd, Yank Rachell, Johnny Young, Sunnyland Slim, Walter Horton as well as Babe Stovall, Snooks Eaglin and others. The recording trip documented on this show wasn't Helander's first to "the blues quarters". In 1961 Helander spent several months visiting the music scenes of New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Memphis, and Chicago. Helander arrived in Chicago with the vague idea of investigating the blues, but initially had no luck tracing down blues artists until a chance meeting with the guitarist Big Joe Williams. Hiring Williams as a guide, Helander soon met up with Willie Dixon, Chicago’s premier blues talent scout and producer, as well as a number of the artists he would record in 1964: Sunnyland Slim, Arvella Gray, James Brewer, Little Brother Montgomery, and St. Louis Jimmy Oden.
Unlike his 1961 trip, Helander returned in 1964 with a clearer mission. In order to insure good sound quality, Helander hand-picked the sound-technician Hans Westman, whom he regarded as Swedish Radio's best, and armed with a portable Nagra tape recorder and four channel mixer, they set off to the States. The two landed in New York on May the 4th, and after making the rounds in the city’s jazz scene over the next days, arrived in Chicago on the 11th. Helander and Westman spent several days preparing their recording sessions, spending time with Willie Dixon, as well as Pete Welding of Testament Records and DownBeat magazine, and Bob Koester, owner of Delmark Records. The blues recordings commenced on May 14th. Not having the budget to book a conventional recording studio, the only suitable place they could find was the Sutherland Lounge, at 4569 South Drexel Avenue in Chicago’s South Side. Conducting sessions on five separate occasions, they would leave Chicago with ninety-nine full takes from fourteen different artists/units. Below you will find background on some of today's featured artists.
For me, and others whose opinion I value, the recordings made by Walter Horton are a high water mark. As Barretta writes: "It’s probably no accident that Helander chose as his introductory theme Walter Horton’s 'Trouble In Mind', the eerie sounds of his lonesome harmonica, accompanied sparsely by Robert Nighthawk on guitar, about as far as one could get from the schlager and pop music dominating the Swedish charts of 1964. As a rather shy, quiet individual, Horton never had much taste for leading his own bands or recording sessions. Horton was much more comfortable in a supporting role and as writer Neal Slavin wrote “was one of the few musicians capable of elevating the slightest material into something approaching a masterpiece.”
James Brewer was born in Brookhaven, Mississippi on 1920 and moved to Chicago in the 1940's where he spent the latter part of his life busking and performing both blues and religious songs at blues and folk festivals, on Chicago's Maxwell Street and other venues. In 1962, however, he was offered an opportunity to play blues at a concert at Northwestern University and also began a regular gig at the No Exit Cafe which lasted for two decades. He went on to play major festivals and clubs in the United States, Canada and Europe. His first recordings appear on Blues From Maxwell Street (Heritage, 1960), cut several sides for Pete Welding in 1964, the same he was recorded during the making of the documentary And The Is Free and cut the full-length albums Jim Brewer (Philo, 1974) and Tough Luck (Earwig, 1983).
John Lee Granderson, Avery Brady and Arvella Gray all performed on Maxwell Street, and all under-recorded. In addition to the full length Hard Luck John (issued posthumously in 1998), Tennessee bluesman John Lee Granderson cut sides on other Testament compilations with further sides appearing on various anthologies. Among those Granderson played with were Robert Nighthawk, Big Joe Williams and Daddy Stovepipe. Brady's first recordings were made for this documentary. A few more songs by Avery were recorded that year and few in 1965 that were issued on the Testament and Storyville labels. He never recorded again. Gray made his first recordings in 1960 (released on the Heritage label) and in early 1964 he made sides for his own Gray label, selling the 45's on the street. In 1964, like James Brewer, he was also recorded for the documentary And This Is Free. He was regular performer on Maxwell Street on Sundays. Gray's only album, 1972's The Singing Drifter was reissued on the Conjuroo label in 2005.
Captured were several artists active in the pre-war years incluing Washboard Sam, St. Louis Jimmy and Little Brother Montgomery. Washboard Sam was one of the most popular and prolific blues artists of the 30's and 40's. Between 1935 and 1949 he recorded hundreds of sides for RCA's Bluebird and Victor labels. His last commercial session was a date with Big Bill Broonzy for Chess in 1953. These recordings were his first recordings in a decade. St. Louis Jimmy Oden made his debut back in 1932 but when recorded for these sessions he was mainly working as a songwriter, although he did cut a full-length album for Bluesville as recently as 1960.
In addition to Little Brother Montgomery, several other pianists were captured during the trip including Willie Mabon, Eddie Boyd and Sunnyland Slim. Mabon made his debut in 1949 but it was his 1952 debut release on the Parrot label, "I Don't Know," topped the R&B charts for eight weeks after being sold to Chess. From then on, Mabon was a Chess artist, returning to the top R&B slot the next year with "I'm Mad" and the Top Ten "Poison Ivy" in 1954. Although he didn't score any he big hits after Chess he continued cutting solid sides for Federal in 1957, Mad in 1960, Formal in 1962, and USA 1963-64. He moved to Paris in 1972.
In 1941, Boyd settled in Chicago. He backed Sonny Boy Williamson on his 1945 classic "Elevator Woman," also accompanying Bluebird stars Jazz Gillum, Tampa Red, and Jazz Gillum on wax. Boyd made his 1947 debut for RCA staying with the label through 1949. Boyd reportedly paid for the date that produced "Five Long Years" himself, selling the track to JOB Records where it topped the R&B charts during 1952. Al Benson signed Boyd to a contract with his Parrot label and promptly sold it to Chess. At Chess he waxed "24 Hours" and "Third Degree," both huge R&B hits in 1953 and several other fine sides. Boyd became enamored of Europe during his tour with the 1965 American Folk Blues Festival, so he moved to Belgium. He recorded prolifically during the late '60sand in the early '70s settled in Helsinki where he played often and lived until his death.
For more than 50 years Sunnyland Slim rumbled the ivories around the Windy City, playing with virtually every local luminary imaginable and backing the great majority in the studio at one time or another. Slim moved to Chicago in 1939 and set up shop as an in-demand piano man, playing for a spell with John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson before making his debut in 1947. Slim recorded prolifically until his death in 1995.