Sun 20 Mar 2011
|Mance Lipscomb||Freddie||Texas Songster|
|Big Joe Williams||Mean Step Father||Tough Times|
|Robert Curtis Smith||Don't Drive Me Away||Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection|
|Sam Chatmon||I Have To Paint My Face||I Have To Paint My Face|
|Lil Son Jackson||I Walked From Dallas||Blues Come To Texas|
|Black Ace||Golden Slipper||I'm The Boss Card In Your Hand|
|Mercy Dee||Lady Luck||Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection|
|Alex Moore||Boogieing In Strasbourg||Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection|
|Lightnin' Sam Hopkins||I Got a Brother in Waxahachie||The Hopkins Brothers|
|Lightnin' Sam Hopkins||Meet You At The Chicken Shack||Texas Blues|
|John Jackson||Bear Cat Blues||Don't Let Your Deal Go Down|
|Bukka White||Alabama Blues||Sky Songs|
|Fred McDowell||Write Me a Few Lines||Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection|
|Clifton Chenier||I'm A Hog For You||60 Minutes With The King Of Zydeco|
|Blind James Campbell||Baby Please Don't Go||And His Nashville Street Band|
|Juke Boy Bonner||Goin' Back To The Country||Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection|
|Johnny Littlejohn||Dream||Slidin' Home|
|Johnny Young||Wild, Wild Woman||Johnny Young And His Chicago Blues Band|
|Earl Hooker||Earl's Blues||The Moon Is Rising|
|L.C. Robinson||Ups And Downs||Ups And Downs|
|Big Mama Thornton||Little Red Rooster||In Europe|
|Bee Houston||Things Gonna Get Better||The Hustler|
|Henry Gray||The Blues Won't Let Me Take My Rest||Louisiana Blues|
|Johnnie Lewis||Hobo Blues||Alabama Slide Guitar|
|Piano Red||You Ain't Got A Chance||Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection|
|David Alexander||Suffering With The Lowdown Blues||The Dirt On The Ground|
|Big Joe Duskin||Cincinnati Stomp||Cincinnati Stomp|
|K.C. Douglas||You're Crying Won't Make Me Stay||Mercury Blues|
|J.C. Burris||One Of These Mornings (I'm Checkin' Out)||Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection|
|Furry Lewis||Judge Boushay Blues||Memphis Swamp Jam|
Mr. Strachwitz in Arhoolie's record vault.
Arhoolie Records is celebrating its 50th year and I thought it would be a good opportunity to do a spotlight on the label who's records have been heard often on my show. Today's feature will obviously focus on the label's blues recordings. While the label reissued many vintage recordings and issued recordings made by others, most notably folklorist Harry Oster, today's focus will be on the recordings made specifically for the Arhoolie label itself. There's of course no way to do justice to the label in a two-hour show and I'll likely do a second installment down the road. The bulk of the Arhoolie catalog has been reissued on CD, almost always with bonus or unreleased tracks with the CD's often having a different title than the original LP's, sometimes combing multiple LP's onto one CD. On a related note I recently picked up a copy of the new Arhoolie 4-CD box set, Hear Me Howling!, which contains dozens of unreleased recordings and I'll be featuring cuts from this collection on an upcoming show.
Arhoolie Records was founded in 1960 and has issued some 400 albums and recorded more than 6,500 songs,the vast majority of which were captured by founder Chris Strachwitz himself. His field recordings have helped popularize numerous branches of Americana roots music, from Tex-Mex and Cajun to blues and folk. Strachwitz did many of his most important recordings with down home artists such as Texas bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins and zydeco king Clifton Chenier on field trips through the South beginning 50 years ago. It was during his summer vacation of 1959 that Strachwitz used this trip as a pretense for his pilgrimage to see personal hero, Lightnin' Hopkins, in Houston. Seeing the legendary Texas bluesman on his home turf at watering holes such as Pop's Place and the Sputnik Club inspired him to begin his own label in earnest, although, ironically, he would not be able to record Lightnin' himself for a couple of years because he was "unaffordable." Arriving in Houston in the summer of 1960 for his second visit, he was disappointed that Hopkins, was back in California at a folk festival. Fortunately during the trip, with the aid of Mack McCormick, he stumbled upon songster Mance Lipscomb. Lipscomb was recorded virtually on the spot, in his house. Texas Songster and Sharecropper became Arhoolie's first release as #1001 (the first of five volumes devoted to Lipscomb). Over the years the label has recorded a wide range of bluesmen such as Big Joe Williams, Black Ace, Fred McDowell, Bukka White, Johnny Young, L.C. Robinson, Earl Hooker, Big Mama Thornton and many others. Strachwitz's interest in recording blues waned by the late 60's and early 70's as he reflected: "I just found it didn't kick me in the ass like the old stuff did. I just found it formulaic." There were some later blues records including late 70's records by Charlie Musselwhite and The Charles Ford Band, a 1985 record by Katie Webster and a 1991 recording by pianist Dave Alexander.
Credit: Chris Strachwitz
Lipscomb was born April 9, 1895 to an ex-slave father from Alabama and a half Native American mother. Lipscomb spent most of his life working as a tenant farmer in Texas and was "discovered" and recorded by Mack McCormick and Chris Strachwitz in 1960. Lipscomb's name quickly became well known among blues and folk music fans. He appeared at the Texas Heritage Festival in Houston in 1960 and 1961, then capitalized on his California connection and made appearances for three years running (1961-63) at the large Berkeley Folk Festival held at the University of California. In between festival appearances he appeared at folk coffeehouses in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, and he made several more recordings for Arhoolie. In the late 1960s, as interest in the blues mounted, Lipscomb experienced still greater success. He appeared at the Festival of American Folklife, held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1968 and 1970, and he performed at other large festivals, including the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1970 and the Monterey Jazz Festival in California in 1973. Among the many musicians who became Lipscomb fans was vocalist Frank Sinatra, who issued a Lipscomb recording, Trouble in Mind, on his Reprise label in 1970. Lipscomb passed in 1976.
Strachwitz finally managed to record Hopkins for his Arhoolie label in 1961 and recorded him sporadically through 1969. By the 60's Hopkins music was increasingly geared towards the new white audience that was embracing blues and this is reflected in the nearly dozen LP's he cut for the Bluesville label. His Arhoolie recordings from this period, however, hark back to the raw sound of his early records that first captured Strachwitz's attention. Hopkins cut several fine albums for Arhoolie including the self-titled Lightnin' Sam Hopkins, an album featuring one with Hopkins' brothers and the other with Barbara Dane, The Texas Bluesman, Lightning Hopkins in Berkeley and Po' Lightning.
In addition to Lipscomb and Hopkins, another major down home blues artist Strachwitz recorded was Fred McDowell. In September, 1959, Alan Lomax encountered Fred McDowell, the greatest discovery of his famous "Southern journey." McDowell, for his part, was happy to have some sounds on records, but continued on with his farming and playing for tips outside of Stuckey’s candy store in Como for spare change. It wasn’t until Strachwitz came searching for McDowell to record him that the bluesman’s fortunes began to change dramatically. He recorded McDowell between 1964 and 1969 resulting in the albums Mississippi Delta Blues, Fred McDowell Vol. 2, Fred McDowell And His Blues Boys and Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning.
It was through Lightnin' Hopkins that Strachwitz met Clifton Chenier, who would become the label's most recorded artist. "Ay Yi Yi"/"Why Did You Go Last Night?" was the initial single and in 1965 Arhoolie issued Chenier's full-length debut, Louisiana Blues and Zydeco. Although they continued to work together until the early '70s, Chenier and Strachwitz differed artistically. While Chenier wanted to record commercial-minded R&B, Strachwitz encouraged him to focus on traditional zydeco. The label issued over a dozen albums by Chenier including 1976's Bogalusa Boogie, with his new group, the Red Hot Louisiana Band which eventually garnered the album an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Chenier reached the peak of his popularity in the '80s. In 1983, he received a Grammy award for his album, I'm Here!, recorded in eight hours in Bogalusa, LA. The following year, he performed at the White House. Chenier passed in 1987.
Many of today's initial sides come from a fruitful meeting with blues historian Paul Oliver. As Strachwitz writes: "In the summer of 1960 I met up with British blues aficionado, author, and vernacular architecture scholar, Paul Oliver and his wife Valerie at the legendary Peabody Hotel in Memphis, TN. Paul was making this trip, his first to the USA, to produce a series of radio programs to be broadcast by the BBC and interviewing historic blues musicians at the source was a major goal of his trip. Paul had sent me in advance a list of names of blues singers who had recorded in Dallas and Fort Worth in the 1920s and ’30s, hoping I would perhaps do a little research on my way to Texas from the West Coast. Driving with Bob Pinson (now of the Country Music Foundation Library) into Texas, we both made many inquiries which led to meeting Lil’ Son Jackson and Black Ace, a singer who accompanied himself on a National steel guitar. With Mack McCormick I was fortunate to meet and record the remarkable Mance Lipscomb and later on the return trip to the West Coast with Paul, we also met Alex Moore in Dallas, an extraordinary character and pianist from the early era in blues history, as well as many other artists in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
In addition to the above mentioned Alex Moore, Strachwitz recorded several fine pianists over the years like Mercy Dee Walton, Piano Red, Dave Alexander (who later changed his name to Omar Sharriff) and Big Joe Duskin. Walton was from Texas who had played piano around Waco from the age of 13 before hitting the coast in 1938. Once there, the pianist gigged up and down the length of the Golden State before debuting on record in 1949 with "Lonesome Cabin Blues" for the tiny Spire logo, which became a national R&B hit. He cut sessions for Imperial in 1950 and Specialty in 1952-53. After a lengthy layoff, Walton returned to the studio in 1961, recording prolifically for Arhoolie (some of this material ended up on the Bluesville album A Pity And A Shame). Walton passed in 1962.
Piano Red was Willie Perryman, the much younger, brother of Rufus Perryman aka Speckled Red. His career started with a bang when he sold an alleged million copies of "Red's Boogie/'Rockin' With Red" in 1951. He hit a second time with "Dr. Feelgood" and he took the name for his own. Strachwitz pried Red loose from his band and recorded him alone at the piano in 1972 resulting in the album Piano Red: "Dr. Feelgood" All Alone With His Piano.
Omar Shariff is a Texas-born pianist who moved to the San Francisco area in the '60s. He made two excellent albums in the 70's for Arhoolie in 1972 as Dave Alexander (The Rattler and The Dirt On The Ground), then disappeared from the recording world for twenty years. Alexander (now as Omar Shariff) made a final recording for the label in 1991 titled The Raven which contains seven tracks form his earlier Arhoolie albums.
In his younger days Joe Duskin performed in clubs in Cincinnati and across the river in Newport, Kentucky. While serving in the US Army in World War II, he continued to play and, in entertaining the US forces, met his idols Johnson, Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. In the early 1970's Duskin began playing the piano at festivals in the US and across Europe. By the late 70's, with the reputation for his concert playing now growing, his first recording, Cincinnati Stomp, was released on Arhoolie Records featuring recording sessions done in 1977 and 1978. He recorded several more albums before passing in 2007.
Strachwitz made some superb urban blues records in the late 60's and early 70's. As he wrote: "As Back in 1968, I told Buddy Guy, who was playing in a Berkeley club, that I was interested in recording his favorite neglected giants of Chicago Blues. I had met Buddy in Europe while touring with the American Folk Blues Festival and found him to be a tasteful and exciting player (and one of the nicest people I ever met). Buddy's prompt response was: Earl Hooker and John Littlejohn! " Hooker was recorded in 1968 and 1069 resulting the excellent Two Bugs And A Roach featuring Freddie Roulette, Louis Myers, Pinetop Perkins, Carey Bell and Andrew Odom. The posthumous Hooker and Steve (recorded in 1969) came out in 1975 featuring keyboardist Steve Miller. In 1998 Arhoolie issued the CD The Moon Is Rising which contained the entirety of Hooker and Steve plus some unreleased live recordings. Johnny Littlejohn's discography is frustratingly inconsistent but hands down his Arhoolie album, 1968's John Littlejohn's Chicago Blues Stars (issued on CD as Slidin' Home), is his best outing.
Strachwitz also recorded Chicago bluesman Johnny Young. He was recorded at two sessions in '65. Producer Pete Welding surrounded him with the best that Chicago had to offer, including two thirds of the then Muddy Waters Band of 1965: Otis Spann, SP Leary, Jimmy Cotton with Jimmy Lee Morris on bass, and for a '67 session, Walter Horton, Jimmy Dawkins, Lafayette Leake, Ernie Gatewood on bass and Lester Dorsie on drums. The sessions resulted in the albums Johnny Young And His Chicago Blues Band and Johnny Young And Big Walter: Chicago Blues. The CD Johnny Young – Chicago Blues contains the entirety of the former and most of the latter album.
Also recorded were a some tough West Coast artists: L.C. Robinson, Bee Houston and Big Mama Thornton. Robinson was born and raised in east Texas, and later relocated to California. Robinson played guitar and fiddle, but he was really known for his incredible steel guitar style. On one of his Arhoolie sessions he is backed by the Muddy Waters band, on another by his own trio issued on the alum Ups And Downs (issued on CD as Mojo In My Hand which includes an unissued radio performance). His only other full length session was House Cleanin' Blues for the Bluesway label in the early 70's.
Texas born, Los Angeles blues guitarist Bee Houston became known as Big Mama Thornton's guitarist during the waning years of her career. He cut his lone album, The Hustler, for Arhoolie in the 70's. The CD version contains not only the entire LP but also most of a second, earlier but unissued session.
Big Mama Thornton was recorded on October 20, 1965, at Wessex Studio in London, England resulting in the album In Europe (the CD version contains six extra sides) featuring Eddie Boyd, Buddy Guy, Big Walter Horton, Fred Below and Jimmy Lee Robinson. Big Mama Thornton Vol. 2: The Queen At Monterey (reissued on CD as Big Mama Thornton – With the Muddy Waters Blues Band, 1966 with seven extra cuts)was recorded in 1966 backed by the Muddy Waters band: James Cotton, Otis Spann, Muddy Waters, Sammy Lawhorn, Luther Johnson and Francis Clay.
Some of the other Arhoolie artists featured today include John Jackson, James Campbell, K.C. Douglas and J.C. Burris. For much of his life, John Jackson played for country house parties in Virginia, or around the house for his own amusement. Then in the ’60s he encountered the folk revival, becoming the Washington, D.C. area’s best-loved blues artist. He made his debut in 1965 for Arhoolie with Blues and Country Dance Tunes From Virginia followed by Country Blues & Ditties and John Jackson In Europe.
A bluesy group of street musicians from Nashville, Tennessee, James Campbell and his group played a hybrid of hillbilly, jazz, blues, old time popular, skiffle, and jug band elements. This assemblage of street musicians was originally recorded in 1963 and issued on the album as Blind James Campbell And His Nashville Street Band. The band worked road houses, on the streets of Nashville, at parties, a well as other social functions.
Born and raised on a family farm near Sharon, MS, K.C. Douglas was deeply influenced by the 1920's recordings of Delta bluesman Tommy Johnson. Relocating to Vallejo, CA, in 1945, Douglas found employment in the naval shipyards. Within a couple of years, he gravitated to the San Francisco/Oakland blues scene. His first recordings were issued on the Oakland-based Downtown label in 1948.He cut some of his best sides for Bluesville in the 60's as well as scattered sides for Arhoolie. In 1974 he the album The Country Boy for the label and issued on CD in 1998 as Mercury Blues with many unreleased tracks.
The nephew of Sonny Terry, Johnny "J.C." Burris was also a blues harmonica player, though he didn't record too much. Burris did some performing in New York in the 1950's and worked on recording sessions with Terry, Sticks McGhee, and other artists on Folkways Records. At the end of the decade, he relocated to California, finding some work in folk clubs in San Francisco before a stroke in 1966 robbed him of his use of his right side. Several years later, he regained his mobility on his right side, and in 1973, he began performing again, recording some solo unaccompanied material in 1975-1976 that appears on Arhoolie's Blues Professor album. He continued playing at schools, clubs, and festivals until his death in 1988.