1960’s Blues

Mississippi Fred McDowell St. Louis BluesFirst Recordings
Mississippi Fred McDowell Going Down the RiverFirst Recordings
Mississippi Fred McDowell Frisco Line You Got To Move
Robert Pete WilliamsSome Got Six Months I'm Blue As a Man Can Be
Robert Pete WilliamsWhen a Man Takes the Blues When a Man Takes the Blues
Robert Pete WilliamsPardon Denied AgainI'm Blue As a Man Can Be
Jesse Fuller Just Like a Ship on the Deep Blue SeaFrisco Bound
Jesse Fuller Cincinnati BluesFrisco Bound
Jesse Fuller 99 YearsJazz, Folk Songs, Spirituals & Blues
Mance LipscombSugar Babe (It's All Over Now)Texas Songster
Mance LipscombFreddieTexas Songster
Mance LipscombBig Boss ManTexas Songster
Mississippi Fred McDowell Trouble Everywhere I Go Mississippi Fred McDowell,
Mississippi Fred McDowell Good Morning, Little School I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll
Mississippi Fred McDowell Shake 'em On Down Mama Says I'm Crazy
Robert Pete Williams Just Tippin' inI'm Blue As a Man Can Be
Robert Pete Williams I've Grown So UglyFree Again
Jesse Fuller Raise A Ruckus Jazz, Folk Songs, Spirituals & Bluess
Jesse Fuller San Francisco Bay BluesSan Francisco Bay Blues
Mississippi Fred McDowell Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning Mississippi Delta Blues Jam In Memphis Vol. 1
Mississippi Fred McDowell You Got To MoveYou Got To Move
Mississippi Fred McDowell Write Me A Few LinesYou Got To Move
Mance LipscombJack O' Diamonds Texas Songster
Mance LipscombCaptain, Captain Captain, Captain
Robert Pete WilliamsI'm Going to Have Myself a Ball Legacy of the Blues, Vol. 9
Jesse Fuller John HenrySan Francisco Bay Blues
Mance LipscombTom Moore BluesTexas Songster Vol. 4: Live! At The Cabale

Show Notes:

Around 1960 a considerable interest for all folk sources for American music evolved among students in the Northeast, and soon spread to the whole country. The blues revival doesn’t refer to the rebirth of the music, the blues never went away, and certainly the electric brand of blues was still popular in urban centers like Chicago, but a new found interest in the music among young white listeners. In a addition there was a small band of enthusiasts who began to collect what information they could on the blues artists of the past. Writers like Samuel Charters and Paul Oliver wrote serious studies of the blues while other like Chris Strachwitz and John Fahey formed labels and tracked down these older blues artists. In addition several down-home artists who had not previously recorded were brought to light, most importantly Mance Lipscomb, Fred McDowell, Robert Pete Williams and Jesse Fuller. Unlike those who recorded back in the 1920's and 30's for the commercial record companies and black consumers, those who recorded in the 1960's and 70's were being recorded primarily for a new found white audience, with the records issued usually on tiny specialist labels. Men like George Mitchell, Davis Evans and Sam Charters undertook a different mission. They made field recordings during this era were a sort of a parallel undercurrent to the more famous artists. What they recorded in the rural communities of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi in the 1960’s was a still thriving, if largely undocumented, blues culture.

Fred McDowell was born in 1904 in Rossville, TN, and was playing the guitar by the age of 14 with a slide hollowed out of a steer bone. His parents died when Fred was a youngster and the wandering life of a traveling musician soon took hold. The 1920s saw him playing for tips on the street around Memphis, TN, the hoboing life eventually setting him down in Como, MS, where he lived the rest of his life. There McDowell split his time between farming and keeping up with his music by playing weekends for various fish fries, picnics, and house parties in the immediate area. This pattern stayed largely unchanged for the next 30 years until he was discovered in 1959 by folklorist Alan Lomax. Lomax set the scene in his The Land Where The Blues Again: "Fred was a quiet, sulky-voiced stoop-shouldered fellow, eager to record. That very evening he invited in a couple of neighbors to help out-one man to play second guitar, and his aunt, Fannie Davis, to provided the wind section by blowing on a fine-toothed comb wrapped in toilet paper. We recorded outdoors after dark, by flashlight. No wind was blowing, and the katydids were out of season, so we could take advantage of the living quiet of open air and the natural resonance of the earth and the trees. The mixer and the stereo had room for this multidimensional sound, with one mike for Fred's voice, one for his picking and its backup, and one for his aunt's humming and wheezing through the comb. The sound we captured made us all deliriously happy. …When we played his recording back to him, he stomped up and down on the porch, whooping and laughing and hugging his wife. He knew he had been heard and felt his fortune had been made."

The results of those first recordings were released as part of an American folk music series on the Atlantic label. 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 Chris Strachwitz, folk-blues enthusiast and owner of the fledgling Arhoolie label, came searching for McDowell to record him that the bluesman's fortunes began to change dramatically. Two albums, Fred McDowell Vol. 1 & Vol. 2, were released on Arhoolie in the mid-'60s which caused a huge stir among the blues revival scene. The success of the Arhoolie recordings suddenly found McDowell very much in demand on the folk and festival circuit, Working everything from the Newport Folk Festival to coffeehouse dates to becoming a member of the American Folk Blues Festival in Europe. McDowell was well documented on film, and by the end of the decade, he was signed to do a one-off album for Capitol Records (I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll) and his tunes were being mainstreamed into blues-rock by artists like Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones. Unfortunately McDowell was diagnosed with cancer while performing dates into 1971. His playing days suddenly behind him, he lingered for a few months into July 1972, finally succumbing to the disease at age 68.

Robert Pete Williams did some playing at house parties in the 30’s. In 1956, Williams shot and killed a man in a local club. Williams claimed the act was in self-defense, but he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was sent to Angola prison, where he served for two years before being discovered by Oster and Richard Allen. The pair recorded Williams performing several of his own songs, which were all about life in prison.Williams' first recording appeared on the anthology Angola Prisoners' Blues in 1959 and was issued by the Louisiana Folklore Society. Impressed with the guitarist’s talents, Oster and Allen pleaded for a pardon for Williams. The pardon was granted in 1959, after he had served a total of three and a half years. For the first five years after he left prison, Williams could only perform in Louisiana, but his recordings — which appeared on Folk-Lyric, Arhoolie, and Prestige, among other labels — were popular and he received positive word of mouth reviews. In 1964, Williams played his first concert outside of Louisiana — it was a set at the legendary Newport Folk Festival. Williams’ performance was enthusiastically received and he began touring the United States, often playing shows with Mississippi Fred McDowell. During the 60’s and 70’s he performed at several festival including the 1966 American Folk Blues Festival. He passed in 1980.

The almost free-form blues of Robert Pete Williams is quite different from the blues of his contemporaries as Tony Russell notes: "The typical Williams piece is a reflective blues underpinned by hypnotically repetitive guitar figures, generally in a modal structure. Sometimes  his source of inspiration fills him with a tense, nervous excitability, which which he acts out in frantic boogie playing. At other tomes he deserts the conventions of blues or boogie woogie and spins long free-form narratives or soliloquies." Peter Gurlanick wrote about seeing him for the first time in his book  Feel Like Going Home: "…It was difficult to approve the banalities of most blues singers after listening to Robert Pete Williams. More than anyone else, he shatters the conventions of the form and refuses to rely on any of the cliches, wither of music or of lyric, which bluesmen after bluesmen will invoke.

Born and raised in Georgia, Jesse Fuller began playing guitar when he was a child, although he didn't pursue the instrument seriously. In his early twenties, Fuller wandered around the southern and western regions of the United States, eventually settling down in Los Angeles. After spending a few years in Los Angeles, Fuller moved to San Francisco. While he worked various odd jobs around the Bay Area, he played on street corners and parties. Fuller's musical career didn't properly begin until the early '50s, when he decided to become a professional musician;  he was 55 years old at the time. Performing as a one-man band, he began to get spots on local television shows and nightclubs. However, Fuller's career didn't take off until 1954, when he wrote "San Francisco Bay Blues."The song was recorded by Rambling Jack Elliot who said in his opening monologue: "Oakland is right across the bay from San Francisco .That's where Jesse Fuller lives. Jesse Fuller plays the 12-string guitar. A livin' Leadbelly. Guitar and harmonica too. Electric. Also has a kinda 5-string …bass-like thing on the floor, that he plays with his foot. Called a foot-doola. And Jesse wrote this song. And I'll sing it to ya now, 'cause I sing it all day long."

The song helped him land a record contract with the independent Cavalier label, and in 1955 he recorded his first album, Folk Blues: Working on the Railroad with Jesse Fuller. The album was a success and soon he was making records for a variety of labels, including Good Time Jazz and Prestige.In the late '50s and early '60s Jesse Fuller became one of the key figures of the blues revival, helping bring the music to a new, younger audience. Throughout the '60s and '70s he toured America and Europe, appearing at numerous blues and folk festivals, as well as countless coffeehouse gigs across the U.S. Fuller continued performing and recording until his death in 1976.

Mance Lipscomb was born in Navasota, Texas, northwest of Houston, on April 9, 1895. Music ran in Lipscomb's family, and after his mother bought him a guitar when he was 11, he began accompanying his fiddler father at local dances. Before long, Lipscomb was in demand for "Saturday Night Suppers" in and around Grimes County, Texas. In addition to his family, Lipscomb picked up musical pointers from Texas blues singer Blind Lemon Jefferson. A traveling performer asked Lipscomb to go on tour in 1922, but Lipscomb said no, and until the 1960s he rarely left the area in which he was born. He worked as a tenant farmer (he disliked the term "sharecropper") for various employers, and most of his musical appearances were at local functions. One day in 1960 encountered music researchers Chris Strachwitz and Mack McCormick on a job site. They were looking for "Lightnin'" Hopkins, who had just left the area, but they agreed to listen to Lipscomb's music instead. Strachwitz was in the process of forming his California-based record company, Arhoolie, and a group of songs recorded around Lipscomb's kitchen table were put together on the album Mance Lipscomb: Texas Songster and Sharecropper, Arhoolie's debut release. 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.

What made Lipscomb stand out from the other Southern blues performers recorded during this period was the diversity of his repertory. As Paul Oliver wrote: "he was, and is, a 'songster'; in other words he did not restrict himself to a particular idiom as many blues singers have done but, coming from a generation of musicians who prided themselves on their versatility, embraced many forms, of which the blues was just one. Mance's life spans the history of the blues and the formative years of his musical development are well rooted the older traditions. At this point in time it is important to realize that this seventy-year young man is a living embodiment, and genuinely one of the last great exponents of the Southern Negro folk song forms before the blues, and the mass media which popularized it, swept them aside." His recordings provided examples of song and dance forms with both white and black roots–waltzes, two-steps, children's songs, jigs, reels, polkas and other styles. 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. He appeared that year in Les Blank's film and two years later was featured in a French blues documentary, Out of the Blacks Into the Blues. Lipscomb suffered from heart trouble in the mid-1970s and gradually retired from the stage. He passed in 1976.

Mississippi John Hurt Avalon Blues The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Got The Blues (Can't Be Satisfied) The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Richland Woman Blues Live!
Mississippi John Hurt Monday Morning Blues Library Of Congress Recordings Vol.2
Bukka White Sic 'Em Dogs On The Vintage Recordings
Bukka White Aberdeen Mississippi Blues The Vintage Recordings
Bukka White Poor Boy Long Ways From Home Legacy of the Blues
Bukka White Sad Day Blues Mississippi Delta Blues Jam in Memphis, Vol. 2
Bukka White Alabama Blues Sky Songs
Furry Lewis Billy Lyons And Stack O'Lee Masters Of Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Big Chief Blues Masters Of Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis The Medicine Shows Furry Lewis
Furry Lewis Pearlee Blues Furry Lewis
Joe Callicott Fare Thee Well Blues Mississippi Masters
Joe Callicott Traveling Mama Blues Broke, Black And Blue
Joe Callicott Laughing To Keep From Crying Ain't A Gonna Lie To You
Joe Callicott Let Your Deal Go Down Ain't A Gonna Lie To You
Mississippi John Hurt Louis Collins The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Ain't No Tellin' The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Trouble All My Day Library Of Congress Recordings Vol.1
Mississippi John Hurt Make Me A Pallet The Best Of Mississippi John Hurt
Bukka White Parchman Farm Blues The Vintage Recordings
Bukka White Bukka's Jitterbug Swing The Vintage Recordings
Furry Lewis Kasie Jones Pt. 1Masters Of The Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Judge Harsh Blues Masters Of The Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Good Morning Judge Good Morning Judge
Furry Lewis Going Away Blues Party! At Home: Recorded in Memphis
Robert Wilkins Police Sergeant BluesMasters Of Memphis Blues
Robert Wilkins Falling Down Blues Masters Of Memphis Blues
Robert Wilkins Prodigal Son Memphis Gospel Singer

Show Notes:

Around 1960 a considerable interest for all folk sources for American music evolved among students in the Northeast, and soon spread to the whole country. While the blues revival is almost always tied to the 1960's it should be noted that white appreciation of the blues, or at least the folksier aspect of blues goes back further with considerable interest generated by Leadbelly in the late 30’s and 40's who attained success playing at concerts and benefits for an audience of leftist folk music aficionados mostly in New York City. Josh White and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee were also part of this scene and played alongside Woody Guthrie and a young Pete Seeger. At the start of the 1950's, Bill Broonzy became part of a touring folk music revue formed by Win Stracke called I Come for to Sing, which also included Studs Terkel and Lawrence Lane. Terkel called him the key figure in this group. The group had some success thanks to the emerging folk revival movement. The exposure made it possible for Broonzy to tour Europe in 1951 where Broonzy was greeted with standing ovations and critical praise wherever he played. The tour marked a turning point in his fortunes, and when he returned to the United States he was a featured act with many prominent folk artists such as Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and Leadbelly. In addition to Broonzy, who made many folk oriented record in the 50's, pre-war artists like Pink Anderson, J.D. Short, Rev. Gary Davis and Scrapper Blackwell among others were also recorded by the end of the 50's.

The blues revival doesn't refer to the rebirth of the music, the blues never went away, and certainly the electric brand of blues was still popular in urban centers like Chicago, but a new found interest in the music among young white listeners. In a addition there was a small band of enthusiasts who began to collect what information they could on the blues artists of the past. Writers like Samuel Charters and Paul Oliver wrote serious studies of the blues while other like Chris Strachwitz and John Fahey formed labels and tracked down these older blues artists. Many of these men would double as writers, producers, promoters and managers fueled by their passion for the music. At first limited to the traditional repertoire of American folk songs such as those gathered in the review Sing Out and expressing itself as the Newport Folk Festival, this movement soon became interested in other sources such as bluegrass, ragtime, and the blues, specifically acoustic country blues, which lost popularity after WW II.

The acoustic blues revival allowed numerous artists rediscovered on that occasion to begin a new career, in particular some blues giants of the 20's and 30's like Son House, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Rev. Gary Davis and too a lesser extent artists like Robert Wilkins and Joe Callicott. Other bluesmen whose careers were at a standstill, due to waning interest among black audiences, adapted their style to the times, including artists like Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Big Joe Williams, Memphis Slim,  Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and even Muddy Waters for a brief spell. In addition several down-home artists who had not previously recorded were brought to light, most importantly Mance Lipscomb, Fred McDowell and Robert Pete Williams.  Several record companies sprang up to document the music, most importantly Prestige/Bluesville that released around a hundred albums between 1960 and 1964. Other labels included Arhoolie, Testament and Piedmont among others. The blues revival spread to Europe, most notably in the form of the American Folk Blues Festival, a remarkable traveling caravan that toured Europe through the 60's and beyond.  Although it should be noted that Muddy Waters had toured England in 1958 and Big Bill Broonzy had toured Europe starting as far back as 1951. By the mid-60's the blues revival began to encompass electric blues and labels like Delmark and Vanguard issued acclaimed records by several artists. Today's show, however, focuses on the early, still acoustic focused part of the blues revival and with all today's featured artists having recorded in the pre-war era. In part one we spotlight well known artists like Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Furry Lewis plus fine artists who  a lower profile during the revival like Joe Callicott and Robert Wilkins.

Mississippi John Hurt grew up in the Mississippi hill country town of Avalon, population under 100, north of Greenwood, near Grenada. He began playing guitar in 1903, and within a few years was performing at parties, doing ragtime repertory rather than blues. In the early '20s, he teamed up with white fiddle player Willie Narmour, playing square dances. Hurt was spotted by a scout for Okeh Records who passed through Avalon in 1927, who was supposed to record Narmour, and was signed to record after a quick audition. Of the eight sides that Hurt recorded in Memphis in February of 1928, only two were ever released, but he was still asked to record in New York late in 1928. Mississippi John Hurt might've lived and died in obscurity, if it hadn't been for the folk music revival of the late '50s and early '60s. A scholar named Tom Hoskins discovered that Mississippi John Hurt, who hadn't been heard from musically in over 35 years, was alive and living in Avalon, MS, and sought him out, following the trail laid down in Hurt's song "Avalon Blues." After his rediscovery a series of concerts were arranged, including an appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, where he was greeted as a living legend. A tour of American universities followed as did a series of recordings: first in a relatively informal, non-commercial setting intended to capture him in his most comfortable and natural surroundings, and later under the auspices of Vanguard Records. Hurt took the opportunity, playing concerts and making new records of old songs as well as material he'd never before laid down. Vanguard got out a new album, Today!, in 1966, from his first sessions for the label. Additionally, the tape of a concert that Hurt played at Oberlin College in April of 1965 was released under the title The Best of Mississippi John Hurt. Hurt got in one more full album, The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt, released posthumously, and a record assembled from his final sessions, Last Sessions, also issued after his death. In addition Hurt was extensively recorded for the Library of Congress in 1963. These recordings have been issued by Fuel 200 on two double CD sets: D.C. Blues: Library of Congress Recordings 1 & 2.

In the notes to Bukka White – The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940, Keith Briggs writes that Bukka's "recordings made between 1930 and 1940 are among the most creative and dynamic blues ever recorded. These early sessions have always been revered as being among the finest in blues history with his last recording date being referred to as the last great pre-war country blues recording session. Booker’s unique sound was a combination of solid, rocking, rhythms interspersed with vigorous guitar breaks, his ability as a bottleneck slide guitarist and his gritty, heavy voice. He favoured the steel bodied National guitar as it’s volume allowed him to be audible over the noise of a good-time crowd. His songs were almost always personal and are among the most creative and descriptive to found on blues records."

In 1930 Bukka White met furniture salesman Ralph Limbo, who was also a talent scout for Victor. White traveled to Memphis where he made his first recordings, singing a mixture of blues and gospel material under the name of Washington White. Victor only saw fit to release four of the 14 songs Bukka White recorded that day. As the Depression set in, opportunity to record didn't knock again for Bukka White until 1937, when Big Bill Broonzy asked him to come to Chicago and record for Lester Melrose. By this time, Bukka White had gotten into some trouble — he later claimed he and a friend had been "ambushed" by a man along a highway, and White shot the man in the thigh in self defense. While awaiting trial, White jumped bail and headed for Chicago, making two sides before being apprehended and sent back to Mississippi to do a three-year stretch at Parchman Farm. While he was serving time, White's record "Shake 'Em on Down" became a hit. It was as "Washington Barrelhouse White" that White recorded two numbers for John and Alan Lomax at Parchman Farm in 1939. After earning his release from Parchman Farm in 1940, he returned to Chicago with 12 newly minted songs to record for Lester Melrose. These became the backbone of his lifelong repertoire, and the Melrose  session today is regarded as the pinnacle of Bukka White's achievements on record. Among the songs he recorded on that occasion were "Parchman Farm Blues" Good Gin Blues," "Bukka's Jitterbug Swing," "Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues," and "Fixin' to Die Blues."These would be his last recordings for nearly a quarter century.

Two California-based blues enthusiasts, John Fahey and Ed Denson addressed a letter in 1963 to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi." By chance, one of White's relatives was working in the Post Office in Aberdeen, and forwarded the letter to White in Memphis. Things moved quickly from the time Bukka White met up with Fahey and Denson; by the end of 1963 Bukka White was already recording on contract with Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie. White wrote a new song celebrating his good fortune entitled "1963 Isn't 1962 Blues” and swiftly recorded material for Fahey's Takoma label (Mississippi Blues) and sessions for Arhoolie (Sky Songs Vol. 1 & 2). He thrived on the folk festival and coffeehouse circuit of the 1960s. Big Daddy, was his final record cut for the Biograph label in 1974. He passed in 1977.

Walter "Furry" Lewis was born in Greenwood, MS, sometime between 1893 and 1900 — the exact year is in dispute, as Lewis altered this more than once. The Lewis family moved to Memphis when he was seven years old, and Lewis made his home there for the remainder of his life. Lewis' real musical start took place on Beale Street in the late teens, where he began his career. He also began playing traveling medicine shows during this period. Lewis' recording career began in April 1927, with a trip to Chicago with fellow guitarist Landers Walton to record for the Vocalion label, which resulted in five songs, also featuring mandolin player Charles Jackson on three of the numbers. In October of 1927, Lewis was back in Chicago to cut six more songs, this time with nothing but his voice and his own guitar. He made a lengthy session in 1928 and cut few final songs in 1929. Lewis gave up music as a profession during the mid-'30s, when the Depression reduced the market for country-blues.

Fortunately, Furry found work as a municipal laborer in Memphis during the '20s, and continued in this capacity right into the '60s. In the intervening years, he played for friends and relatives, living in obscurity. At the end of the '50s, however, folksong/blues scholar Sam Charters discovered Lewis and persuaded him to resume his music career. He first recorded Lewis for Folkways in 1959 on a self-titled album. Lewis returned to the studio under Charters' direction and cut two albums for the Prestige/Bluesville labels in 1961. Gradually, as the '60s and the ensuing blues boom wore on, Lewis emerged as one of the favorite rediscovered stars from the '30s, playing festivals, appearing on talk shows, and being interviewed. Furry Lewis became a blues celebrity during the '70s, following a profile in Playboy magazine and appearances on The Tonight Show, and managed a few film and television appearances. Lewis recorded extensively in the 50’s and 70’s, often in informal settings, with albums issued on Blue Horizon, Adelphi, Southland and with several posthumous recordings issued. Lewis died in Memphis in 1981.

Joe Callicott waxed a lone 78 in Memphis in 1929, “Fare Thee Well Blues b/w Traveling Mama Blues”, and a year later played second guitar on Garfield Akers’ “Cottonfield Blues Parts 1 & 2.” It was field recorder George Mitchell who found Callicott in Nesbit, Mississippi off Highway 51 not far from Hernando and short distance from Brights where Garfield Akers was supposedly born. Callicott’s “comeback” was about as short as his first recording career, lasting from the summer of 1967 through the summer of 1968; he recorded nineteen sides for Mitchell either late August or early September, four sides at the 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival and seventeen sides for Blue Horizon in 1968. As Paul Oliver wrote: “A wider recognition came almost too late but Joe appeared at the 1968 Memphis Blues Festival and was looking forward to a European trip. Back at his home, with the birds whistling and witnessed by his wife and their bellcow, he recorded his last testament; he died early in 1969 and with him went the last echoes of Mississippi country music of the earliest phase of the blues.”

Robert Wilkins was born in Hernando, a small town in northern Mississippi, which nonetheless managed to contribute such musicians as Frank Stokes, Jim Jackson, Garfield Akers and Joe Callicott to the story of the Blues. Wilkins worked in Memphis during the Roaring Twenties, sharing billing with Furry Lewis, Memphis Minnie (whom he claimed to have tutored), Son House, and other musicians for local shows. He also organized a jug band to capitalize on the "jug band craze" then in vogue. His first sessions for the Victor label in 1928 yielded the droning, one-chord "Rolling Stone," whose title, if not structure, later inspired Muddy Waters. In September 1929, Wilkins recorded for the Brunswick label in Memphis's Peabody Hotel, where he waxed the notable "That's No Way To Get Along," a song he would record later as "The Prodigal Son." The recording industry was hit hard by the Great Depression and as sales slackened, so did recording opportunities. Wilkins continued to play Memphis during the early 1930s, with occasional stints in the medicine show wagon and an informal appearance at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. In 1935, he was offered an opportunity to record for the Vocalion label in Jackson, Mississippi, with Little Son Joe and "Kid Spoons." The output was a varied collection of song styles, including "Old Jim Canan's," a celebration of the gambling parlor formerly located at 340 Beale Street.

Wilkins quit music in 1936 and in 1950 became a minister in the Church of God in Christ. He was rediscovered in 1964, made a few recordings on scattered anthologies and played the festival circuit for the spell but stuck strictly to spiritual music. In 1964 he cut his lone album, the classic Memphis Gospel Singer, which has yet to be issued on CD. Wilkins passed in 1987.

B.B King Night Life Blues Is King
B.B King No Money, No Luck Blues Lucille
Otis Spann T'Ain't Nobody's Bizness The Blues Is Where It's At
Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson Flat Broke Blues Cherry Red
Jimmy Rushing You Can't Run Around (Blues) Everyday I Have The Blues
John Lee Hooker If You Miss 'Im...I Got 'Im... If You Miss 'Im...I Got 'Im...
John Lee Hooker The Motor City Is Burning Urban Blues
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee Just Usin' Me for a Convenience Long Way From Home
Jimmy ReedKnocking At Your Door Soulin'
Roy BrownHard TimesThe Blues Are All Brown
Earl Hooker Something You Ate Do You Remember The Great Earl Hooker
Earl Hooker Come To Me Right Away, Baby Simply The Best
Charles Brown Drifting Blues Simply The Best
Jimmy Witherspoon Parcel Post Blues Hunh!
Johnny "Big Moose" Walker FootraceRambling Woman
Sunnyland Slim Get to Hip to Yourself Sunnyland Slim Plays Ragtime Blues
Johnny Little John Lost In The JungleFunky From Chicago
Andrew Odom Don't Ever Leave Me All Alone Father On Down The Road
Snooky Pryor Miss Stella Brown BluesThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
Lucille Spann Country GirlCry Before I Go
Johnny Young I Know She's Kinda Slick I Can't Keep My Foot From Jumping
Cousin JoeChicken A-La-Blues Cousin Joe Of New Orleans
Roosevelt Sykes Jookin' In New OrleansDirty Double Mother
Lee Jackson When I First Came to Chicago Lonely Girl
L.C. Robinson My Baby Crossed The Bay House Cleanin' Blues
Carey Bell Taking You DowntownLast Night

Show Notes:

ABC-Paramount formed the BluesWay subsidiary in 1966 to record blues music. The label lasted into 1974, with the last new releases coming in February, 1974. The label issued over 70 albums, numerous 45's plus several titles that remain unreleased. To give the new label legitimacy B.B. King, who was recording for ABC at the time, saw his releases put out on BluesWay (his Blues Is King was the label's first release). BluesWay seemingly signed every major bluesman available, including Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Otis Spann, Joe Turner, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Rushing, Jimmy Witherspoon, Charles Brown, Roy Brown, Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry among others. In addition to these seasoned performers the label issued records by deserving lesser knows, issuing the first LP's by Lee Jackson, Lucille Spann, Andrew Odom and L.C. Robinson. Legendary jazz producer Bob Thiele (he was the main producer at ABC/Impulse between 1961-69) was instrumental in getting the  BluesWay label started but entrusted day to day operations and producing to others. Early sessions were produced by Bill Syzmzyck, Ed Michel, Bob Thiele, with later sessions handled by Al Smith. Al Smith was Jimmy Reed's manager and bandleader, and after Vee-Jay folded in 1966, a producer of soul sessions for ABC and blues sessions for ABC BluesWay. Smith inked a 25-LP production deal with BluesWay in 1973. Twenty of these albums subsequently appeared. After the label folded all interests were bought by MCA who are now owned by Universal.

The label has been ill spottily reissued on CD, usually by labels other than the parent company MCA, and in many cases these CD's themselves are out of print. MCA has largely left the catalog to languish. The BluesWay label has a decidedly mixed reputation, cutting many very good records and many downright bad ones. Producer Al Smith has been the target of much of the animosity against the label summed up by writer Pete Lowry in a 1974 Living Blues review: "Finally I get a chance to take a swipe at Al Smith. Unfortunately, he is no longer able to enjoy it, but I'll go on anyway. Here was a strange man-I don't know if he was any kind of bass player, but he surely produced some screwed-up sessions. I won't go into artist "relations," but merely deal with the sessions; there have been some predictable characteristics. Lousy liner notes, replete with phonetic spelling (to be kind), incomplete or wrong personnel data, as well as often incomplete or disordered listings of the tunes… As for the records themselves, they varied from good to near disasters. The results of Al's Special Ninety Minute Album Sessions included inconsistent levels on instruments, as if the warm up/test stuff was mixed for release (as was most likely the case!), some strange sounding stuff (out-of-synch echo units), and just total lack of programming. Al seems to have assembled albums in the order recorded, with no concept of the album as a programmed whole. For an artist to survive this sort of "production" he had to be damn good, or be having a better than average day in the studio." No doubt Lowry is accurate in his assessment but to be fair, as he notes, the label issued quite a number of very good records that deserve a better fate than to languish in limbo. In this article we selectively trawl through the BluesWay catalogue spotlighting some of the releases featured on today's program. Hopefully MCA will see fit to to create a proper BluesWay reissue series but until then vinyl may be your only option (where known I'll try and list records which have appeared on CD – reissues have appeared on Charly in the late 80's as well as Off-Beat and One Way in the 90's although these now appear to be out of print. The BGO label has reissued several BluesWay records all of which appear to be in print).

The BluesWay label issued seven albums by B.B. King between 1966 and 1970. Hands down the best of the bunch was the first one, 1966's Blues Is King which ranks as one of King's best live recordings, perhaps just a notch behind the seminal Live At The Regal cut two years previously. Recorded at a Chicago club, B.B. turns in sizzling performances of "Tired Of Your Jive", "Don't Answer The Door" and a spectacular "Night Life." The rest of B.B.'s output during this period is very solid including 1967's Blues On Top of Blues with brassy arrangements of songs like "Paying the Cost to Be the Boss and "Worried Dream" while 1968's Lucille is sparser, most notable for the ten minutes of "Lucille." 1969's Completely Well was B.B.'s breakthrough album featuring "The Thrill Is Gone" while Live & Well is divided evenly between live and studio material and contains "Why I Sing The Blues" and was his first LP to enter the Top 100. His Best – The Electric B.B. King is not a "best of" but a collection of previously issued items as singles and studio leftovers and features strong material like "Don't Answer The Door" a #2 R&B hit, "Paying The Cost To Be The Boss" and "All Over Again." 1970's Back Alley was a "best of" collection. All of B.B.'s output from this period has been reissued on MCA with some titles on BGO.

In addition to B.B. King, BluesWay brought heavyweights Jimmy Reed and T-Bone Walker into the fold. With his contract for Vee-Jay over, Al Smith brought Reed over to BluesWay where he cut four albums for the label between 1966-1968; The New Jimmy Reed Album, Soulin', Big Boss Man and Down In Virginia. These records add little to Reed's reputation, finding him mostly singing his classic material and were guitar heavy featuring, in addition to Reed, Eddie Taylor, Lefty Bates and Wayne Bennett. A selection of BluesWay material appears on the CD Jimmy Reed Is Back issued on Collectables. Walker cut two records for the label, Stormy Monday in 1967 and Funky Town in 1968. These aren't essential T-Bone records, although quite credible, with Walker playing well featuring a sympathetic band, particularly pianist Lloyd Glenn with the two sounding particularly good together on "Going To Funky Town." Walker revisits a number of his early classics like "Cold Hearted Woman", "Stormy Monday" and "I'm In An Awful Mood", updating these numbers with some 60's styled funk that generally comes across well. Both records have been reissued on BGO.

Between recordings under his own name and session work, Earl Hooker was prolifically recorded by BluesWay in 1969 less than a year before he passed away. Hooker was on the West Coast recording for Blue Thumb when he began working club dates with his cousin John Lee Hooker. Hooker was working with BluesWay at the time which is how Earl Hooker's BluesWay association began. The first date was a session with John Lee Hooker which went so well that producer Ed Michel offered to make an album with Earl on the spot. Both the John Lee Hooker album If You Miss 'Im…I Got 'Im and Earl Hooker's Don't Have To Worry were recorded on May 29, 1969 with the same personnel, adding Andrew Odom to Earl's date since he was insecure about his vocals. Considering the quick, no nonsense nature of the recording the results came off exceptionally well. It's inexplicable why Don't Have To Worry hasn't been issued on CD in it's entirety (5 songs appeared on the anthology Simply The Best with one additional song on Blues Masters, Vol. 15: Slide Guitar Classics. Despite his vocal insecurities Hooker sounds confident on "You Got To Lose" and "Don't Have To Worry" (originally called "Do Right Baby" as recorded by Billy Gayles in 1956). Odom's robust, booming vocals are particularly good on "The Sky Is Crying" and "Come To Me Right Away, Baby" while Big Moose Walker takes the vocals on the remarkable "Is You Ever See A One-Eyed Woman Cry?" Hooker stretches out on the instrumentals "Hookin'" and adaptation of "Honky Tonk" and sounds even more inspired in an update of "Universal Rock" a song he first cut in 1960. If You Miss 'Im…I Got 'Im is a very strong outing with Earl and his crew giving a unique twist to Hooker's sound. Hooker's wah-wah is heard to good effect on on moody numbers like "Lonesome Mood", "I Wanna Be Your Puppy, Baby" and lays down some nice slide flourishes on the title track. This has been reissued on CD on the BGO label. BGO has also reissued the other John Lee Hooker BluesWay albums: Urban Blues, Simply The Truth and Live At Cafe Au-Go-Go. The other Earl Hooker album released was 1973's posthumous Do You Remember The Great Earl Hooker which were sides originally cut and released for the Cuca label in the early 60's. This has been reissued on CD by Catfish as There's a Fungus Amung Us but which is likely out of print itself.

Ed Michel was so impressed with results that additional sessions were set the following week for Big Moose Walker and Andrew Odom. For the Odom date Michel backed him with jazz veterans Panama Francis on drums and Jimmy Bond on stand-up bass. Hooker for his part was asked to play it straight, without slide or wah-wah. Odom is in fine form and the chemistry between Hooker is faultless with Hooker getting plenty of room to cut loose. The album was released as Farther On Down The Road. Among the highlights are the moody "Stormy Monday", the bouncing "Don't Ever Leave Me All Alone" and a crackling version of "Farther Up The Road" (2 songs appear on Simply The Best). The record wasn't treated well by the critics as Mike Leadbitter clearly expressed in a 1973 edition of Blues Unlimited: "What a bitter disappointment! Muffled sound, endless boring songs and total lack of variation. What have BluesWay done to my heroes?" The album was finally released in 1973 and virtually sank without a trace. Despite Leadbitter's assessment this is a worthwhile release and well worth resurrecting on CD. On the other hand Leadbitter gave a rave write up to Johnny "Big Moose" Walker's Rambling Woman (recorded five days after the Odom session) in the January 1971 issue of Blues Unlimited: "He plays piano with the sort of boogie-woogie drive you just don't hear anymore, and has a nice husky voice-this is an exceptionally good blues album." Walker delivers fine originals including the witty "Footrace" (originally cut in 1961 as "Footrace To a Resting Place" and in 1967), the organ driven "Rambling Woman" (originally cut in 1967), "Baby Talk" with everybody stretching out on instrumentals "Moose Huntin'" and "Moose Is On The Loose." The session is slightly marred by Otis Hale's electric tenor sax. Hale was a guy Walker picked up in the park after hearing him play and disappeared after this session to (thankfully) never record again.

In the summer of 1969 Ed Michel signed up Charles Brown, Jimmy Witherspoon and the duo Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee. Brown and Witherspoon usually worked with pick-up units and Hooker was selected to worked with them as well as backing Sonny & Brownie following Michel's idea of putting their sound in an urban blues context. Jimmy Witherspoon was recorded first with the album released shortly after Hooker's death under the title Hunh!. The record is decidedly mixed, basically a long jam session, featuring Mel Brown, Jimmy Bond and Charles Brown. This is a laid back affair with some solid jams including "Bags Under My Eyes", "You Can't Do A Thing When You're Drunk" and the 12 minute plus of "Pillar To Post." Witherspoon had also recorded an earlier album for BluesWay in 1969 titled Blues Singer. Tracks from these albums together with several unreleased recordings from the same sessions were released as Never Knew This Kind of Hurt Before – The BluesWay Sessions on the UK-based Charly label in 1989. Hooker, Brown and Bond were brought back the next day, with the addition of drummer Ed Thigpen, tenor Red Holloway and singer Dottie Ivory for Charles Brown's session which was titled Legend! when released. Again a jam session atmosphere prevailed but this time the results were much better, in fact the album is a remarkable one, and ranks as one of the finest BluesWay dates. Brown reworks his old classics in a more modern context resulting in terrific new versions of "New Merry Christmas Baby", "Drifting Blues" and the stunning "I Want To Go Home" all featuring some beautiful and thoughtful playing from Hooker and superb tenor from Holloway. This record has been issued on CD on the Off-Beat imprint. As for Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, their playing and singing are as good as ever but the record never really gels. Michel was obviously not pleased with the results, with the record issued only four years later as I Couldn't Believe My Eyes. The record was chiefly notable for being Hooker's last studio appearance. This has been reissued on CD by the BGO label.

One of the things BluesWay should be applauded for is giving lesser known deserving bluesmen an opportunity to record. It was on BluesWay that artists such as L.C. Robinson, Lee Jackson, Lucille Spann, Cousin Joe and the aforementioned Big Moose Walker and Andrew Odom recorded their first full length records. On the short list of truly great BluesWay recordings one would have to place L.C. Robinson's House Cleanin' Blues. Robinson was an immensely talented steel guitar player, strong vocalist and fiddle player who had only one single from 1954 and a handful of tracks on a 1968 World Pacific LP to his credit. House Cleanin' Blues is a flawless set featuring Robinson's distinctive steel guitar on the blazing title track plus a batch of equally potent originals like "Separation Blues", "My Baby Crossed The Bay" and some outstanding fiddle on the brooding "Summerville Blues." Sadly Robinson recorded only once more for Arhoolie. Lee Jackson was a distinctive Chicago guitarist who had waxed a handful of singles in the 50's and 60's for Cobra, C.J. and Bea and Baby as well as appearing on records by Willie Dixon, Little Walter, St. Louis Jimmy, Roosevelt Sykes, Sunnyland Slim and others. His Lonely Girl is a very solid Chicago blues outing – although it could probably have been better with more rehearsal – featuring his slightly reverberated, jazzy guitar on fine cuts like the title track, "Juanita" (first cut by him in 1961) and "When I First Came To Chicago." The band is solid with Carey Bell being a real standout. Lucille Spann had made a handful of recordings with husband Otis and after his death in 1970 and cut a fine tribute to him immortalized on the out of print Ann Arbor Blues Festival 1972. Her lone album, 1972's Cry Before I Go, was quite good, spotlighting her strong, raspy, gospel vocals (she sang in church in Mississippi and Chicago) backed by a terrific Chicago ensemble of Detroit Junior, Mighty Joe Young, Eddie Taylor and Willie Smith. Highlights include the title cut, the hard luck "Meat Ration Blues" and the superb "Country Girl" which evolves into an impassioned tribute to her late husband. New Orleans singer/pianist Pleasant Joseph was introduced to Al Smith through Roosevelt Sykes who was acting as a talent scout for the label. Between 1945 and the early 50's he cut a slew of of swinging sides with top drawer session men that highlighted his witty wordplay and made him a big draw on the New York scene. If you want to know where Dr. John found his inspiration look no further than Cousin Joe. Joe hadn't record in nearly a decade when he made the exceptionally good Cousin Joe Of New Orleans, backed by a sympathetic combo that finds Joe in energetic and humorous form as he updates his classic numbers like "Beggin' Woman", "Chicken A-La-Blues" and "Evolution Blues."

In addition to Cousin Joe, BluesWay recorded a number of piano players including the above mentioned Roosevelt Sykes plus two dates by Otis Spann and one session by Sunnyland Slim. Sykes was one of the great blues piano men who made his debut back in 1929 and recorded prolifically for numerous labels up until his death in 1983. On the surface his lone BluesWay date, Dirty Double Mother, would be just another brief pause in a long career and one would expect a typically professional outing if nothing else. Sykes, however, was clearly inspired turning in an exuberant performance backed by the same band as Cousin Joe plus the great sax of Clarence Ford. Ford was a veteran who's worked graced countless records by artists like Amos Milburn, Fats Domino, Snooks Eaglin, Ear King, Little Richard, Guitar Slim and many others. Ford is terrific here as is Sykes who's witty way with a lyric is heard to fine effect on "May Be A Scandal", "Double Breasted Woman" as well as stomping boogies like "Jookin' In New Orleans" and "Dooky Chase Boogie." From New Orleans BluesWay went to Chicago where they recorded two albums by Otis Spann, The Blues Is Where It's At and The Bottom of the Blues, in 1966 and 1967. The first was recorded before a small studio audience, the second featuring the debut of Spann's wife Lucille with both sessions backed by Muddy Waters and his band. Spann is in commanding form on tracks like "My Home Is In The Delta", "T'ain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do", "Heart Loaded With Trouble" and "Doctor Blues." Both records have been reissued on the MCA CD Down To Earth: The BluesWay Recordings, which seems to be out of print, and as individual CD's on BGO. The other Chicago piano player recorded was Sunnyland Slim who's oddly titled Plays The Ragtime Blues was released in 1972. Despite the title this is an exceptionally strong, well recorded set of Chicago blues finding Sunnyland backed superbly by Carey Bell and The Aces (Louis Myers, Dave Myers and Fred Below). "Get Hip To Yourself" is a terrific tough times tale with sizzling guitar from Myers with other highlights including "Mr. Cool" and the jazzy "Canadian Walk."

Alongside Otis Spann and Sunnyland Slim, Al Smith produced sessions by other Chicago artists including Carey Bell, Homesick James, Snooky Pryor, Johnny Littlejohn and Johnny Young. These sessions are definitely a mixed bag. Carey Bell's Last Night is his second album having cut a record for Delmark in 1969. The BluesWay LP is a superior outing finding Bell turning in a very strong Chicago blues record filled with plenty of inspired harp work on tracks like "Last Night", "Tomorrow Night" and instrumental showcases like "Rosa, I Love Your Soul" and "Freda." Bell receives excellent support from Pinetop Perkins, Dave Myers, Eddie Taylor and Willie Smith. This has been reissued on CD on the One Way label. With the addition of Snooky Pryor the same band backs Homesick James on his Ain't Sick No More. This is a very solid, relaxed outing with James in fine form on songs like "Buddy Brown", "Fayette County Blues" and " Money Getter." Snooky Pryor hadn't recorded in over a decade, having become disgusted with the record business, when he cut the lukewarm Do It If You Want To. It was Homesick James who directed Al Smith to his pal Snooky Pryor. Like the Cousin Joe and Roosevelt Sykes, this record was cut in New Orleans featuring some of the same band members. Pryor's brand of Chicago blues doesn't find sympathetic backing from the band and only a few songs like "The One I Crave To See" and "Do It If You Want To" rise to the occasion. Johnny Littlejohn was a fine slide player and singer who unfortunately was ill served on record so perhaps we can't totally blame Al Smith for the tepid Funky From Chicago. While Littlejohn turned in a sterling performance on his 1968 debut Arhoolie record, this one lacks the former's excitement. Littlejohn sounds muted on this recording with few tracks that stand out despite backing from a band that included Eddie Taylor, Dave Myers and Fred Below. Sadly Littlejohn's subsequent records weren't much better. Johnny Young's I Can't Keep My Foot From Jumping was Young's final recording, passing not long after this superb date. Young is in top form playing mandolin on all cuts backed by a tough band featuring stellar guitar work from Louis Myers and the debut by harp man Jerry Portnoy who is uncredited. Young energetically romps through first rate numbers like "Deal The Cards", "I Know She's Kinda Slick", and "No. 12 Is At The Station" among others. This is one of Young's best dates outside of his fine late 60's Arhoolie session.

The BluesWay label cast a wide net pulling in several classic blues shouters and those in a similar vein, cutting albums by veterans such as Jimmy Rushing, Eddie Cleanhead Vinson, Roy Brown and Big Joe Turner. It may have been relatively late in Jimmy Rushing's career when he recorded two albums for BluesWay, Every Day I Have the Blues and Livin' the Blues, but he was still in prime singing voice. Joined by a terrific cast of old pals like trombonist Dickie Wells, trumpeter Clark Terry, and tenor saxophonist Buddy Tate, Rushing puts across his distinctive brand of jazzy blues on tunes like "Berkeley Campus Blues," "Blues in the Dark," "I Left My Baby," "Sent for You Yesterday," "We Remember Prez" and "Evil Blues", the latter benefiting from Shirley Scott's organ and the guitar of Kenny Burrell. The end results are two fine swinging sets of vintage Jimmy Rushing. Both albums have been reissued on the Polygram CD Every Day I Have The Blues. Like Rushing, Vinson was well into a long illustrious career when he cut 1967's Cherry Red, his first recording after a five year hiatus from the studio. Backed by the fine small combo of Buddy Lucas on tenor/harmonica, Patti Brown on organ and Mike Bloomfield on guitar, Vinson turns in a marvelous session revisiting past glories like "Cherry Red", "Alimony Blues", "Somebody's Got To Go" as well as newer gems like 'Cadillac Blues" and "Flat Broke Blues." Bloomfield's playing is a real stand out. This album has been reissued on the One Way label. Big Joe Turner's 1967 album Singing The Blues and 1970's Turns On The Blues find the veteran shouter in fine form featuring ace tenor man Buddy Lucas and terrific blowing from George "Harmonica" Smith. The former album has been reissued on CD on the Mobile Fidelity label. Roy Brown cut 1973's Hard Times: The Classic Blues Of Roy Brown which  features the fine title track but the remainder is a bit lackluster.

BluesWay lists several albums that were unissued. The following list is taken from the ilpopolodelblues website: Roy Brown: Brown on Blues, Rocky & Val: I Stopped & Looked at the World , John Lee Hooker: Untitled Album, Jimmy Reed: Untitled Album, Little Andrews 'Blues Boy' Odom: Take Me Back to St.Louis and Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry: Untitled Album.

In closing, the BluesWay label has an uneven track record due primarily it seems to the quickie recording sessions and lack of rehearsals among musicians who in many cases hadn't play together much. Producers such as Bill Syzmzyck, Ed Michel, Bob Thiele did an admirable job considering these conditions but certainly Al Smith deserves much of the criticism leveled at him. Still there were many good records that deserve a better fate than languishing in the out of print bin. Even those that have been reissued on CD on One Way and Off-Beat in the early 90's all appear to be out of print. The BGO BluesWay reissues do appear to all be in print. Many of the LP's can be found easily on ebay although there are a few elusive ones. Hopefully MCA will see fit to due a proper reissue program of the BluesWay catalog as they did of the better known Chess catalog. At the very least they should reissue some of the better albums in there entirety like the Charles Brown, Earl Hooker, Johnny Young, L.C. Robinson and Sunnyland Slim to name a few. A very credible BluesWay box set could also be assembled, a 3 or 4 CD set say, cherry picking the best of the label. Major labels are usually indifferent about their blues holdings so I won't hold my breath but certainly the BluesWay catalog deserves a better fate.

Stay tuned for a part two somewhere down the road. That show will more tracks by the more prolific BluesWay artists like B.B. King and John Lee Hooker plus records we couldn't get to this time out including albums by Big Joe Williams, Bobby Bland, Gatemouth Moore, Ray Charles and George "Harmonica" Smith among others.

Larry DalePlease Tell MeRock With A Sock
Cootie WilliamsThree O'Clock in the MorningJazz At Midnight
Bob GaddyOperatorHarlem Blues Operator
Bob GaddyBicycle BoogieBob Gaddy & Friends
Bob GaddyNo HelpBob Gaddy & Friends
Paul WilliamsShame, Shame, ShamePaul Williams Vol. 3 1952-1956
Paul WilliamsThe Woman I Love Is DyingPaul Williams Vol. 3 1952-1956
Larry DaleNo Tellin' What I'll DoHerald/Ember Blues & Gospel Masters Vol. 1
Cootie WilliamsRinky DinkCootie Williams in Hi Fi
Bob GaddyBlues Has Walked In My RoomBob Gaddy & Friends
Big Red McHoustonStranger BluesRock With A Sock
Larry DaleMidnight HoursRock With A Sock
Larry DaleI'm TiredRock With A Sock
Larry DaleWhere Is My HoneyRock With A Sock
Champion Jack DupreeThe UpsShake Baby Shake
Champion Jack DupreeDown The LaneShake Baby Shake
Champion Jack DupreeStory Of My LifeShake Baby Shake
Champion Jack DupreeYou're Always Cryin' The BluesShake Baby Shake
Larry DaleYou Better Heed My WarningRock With A Sock
Larry DaleBig MuddyHy Weiss Presents Old Town Records
Larry DaleDown To The BottomRock With A Sock
Bob GaddyPaper LadyHarlem Blues Operator
Bob GaddyOut Of My NameHarlem Blues Operator
Bob GaddyRip And RunHarlem Blues Operator
Larry DaleLet Your Love Run To MeOld Town Blues Vol. 2
Larry DaleLet The Doorbell RingHy Weiss Presents Old Town Records
Larry DaleDrinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-DeeMidnight Ramble Tonight Vol. 2
Champion Jack DupreeJunker's BluesBlues From The Gutter
Champion Jack DupreeGoin' Down SlowBlues From The Gutter
Champion Jack DupreeT. B. BluesBlues From The Gutter
Champion Jack DupreeEvil WomanBlues From The Gutter
Cootie WilliamsBoomerangCootie Williams in Hi Fi
Larry DaleFeelin' Allright45

Show Notes:

Blues & Rhythm Magazine Cover Number 34

I received the sad news of the passing of Larry Dale who died on May 19th. Outside of die hard collectors, who hold Dale's recordings in high esteem, he never broke out to a large audience despite cutting some potent blues and R&B sides under his own name and some knockout session guitar backing artists like Mickey Baker, Champion Jack Dupree, Bob Gaddy, Paul Williams and Cootie Williams. I became an immediate fan of Dale's after grabbing a copy Still Groove Jumping! from my favorite record store, Finyl Vinyl on New York's Second Ave., an anthology of sides cut for the Groove label including a trio of gritty blues by Dale. It was also about this time that I was a regular reader of  the British Juke Blues magazine when they published an article entitled Larry Dale: The New York Houserocker (Juke Blues # 9, 1987 – read below). To my surprise I found out that Dale and I both lived in the Bronx but unfortunately I never got a chance to see him perform. Over the years I've picked up just about all of Dale's recordings and today we pay tribute to Dale and his New York friends who's records he played on.

New York City has never had a big reputation as a blues town, compared to Chicago and L.A. It did however have a very lively postwar R&B scene. The R&B scene had its peak between 1945 and 1960 and has always been closely associated with the local jazz scene. There were nationally important clubs like the Apollo and Savoy and numerous other spots for live entertainment.  The recording scene was dominated by a group of small but enterprising independent companies like: Apollo, DeLuxe, Fire/Fury, Herald, Baton, Joe Davis, Old Town and in particular, Atlantic and Savoy. There was also out of town companies that recorded local talent like Federal and RCA’s Groove and Vik subsidiaries. Literally hundreds and hundreds of R&B recordings were made, aimed at the black market with occasional cross over success

Born in Texas, Dale had moved to New York City in 1949 and quickly fell into the local blues scene as he explained: "It's kinda funny how I learned to play the guitar. Brownie McGhee would let me come up on his bandstand and sit in the back and playing all kind of bad notes until I learned where the changes were. And then I got so where I could play pretty good. And I could always sing good, If I could sing and leave the guitar alone I was good, but if I tried to play the guitar …Bobby Schiffman told me 'You just sing, leave the guitar alone. you'11 make it'. But he didn't know I was determined to learn the guitar. So I bought B.B King records, people that played guitars; and I learned how to play. Then Mickey Baker he taught me a lot. …Well before then Mickey taught me a lot about guitar. And then it's a funny thing, after Mickey taught me then I had to teach him how to play the blues!"

Larry Dale's House Rockers: Matt Gray, sax; Larry Dale, guitar;
Bob Gaddy, piano; poss Gene Brooks, drums.

Dale made his start with Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams’ band in the early 50’s and plays on one four song session cut in 1952 for Jax, taking the vocals on  "Shame, Shame, Shame" and "The Woman I Love Is Dying." These records can be found on Blue Moon's Paul Williams Vol. 3 1952-1956.  Saxophonist and bandleader Paul Williams scored one of the first big hits of the R&B era in 1949 with "The Hucklebuck which topped the R&B charts for 14 weeks and was one of three Top 10 and five other Top 20 R&B instrumental hits that Williams scored for Savoy in 1948 and 1949. He was later part of Atlantic Records' house band in the '60s and directed the Lloyd Price and James Brown orchestras until 1964.

Both as a session man and featured recording artist, pianist Bob Gaddy made his presence known on the New York blues scene during the 1950's. Dale had high praise for Gaddy: "Bob Gaddy as a musician? Well, he kept me in the business I would say, he was that good …Bob was one of the best nightclub entertainers I ever worked with." Gaddy was drafted in 1943, and that's when he began to take the piano seriously. He picked up a little performing experience in California clubs while stationed on the West Coast before arriving in New York in 1946. Gaddy gigged with Brownie McGhee and guitarist Larry Dale around town, McGhee often playing on Gaddy's waxings for Jackson (his 1952 debut, "Bicycle Boogie"), Jax, Dot, Harlem, and from 1955 on, Hy Weiss' Old Town label. There Gaddy stayed the longest, waxing the fine "I Love My Baby," "Paper Lady," "Rip and Run," and quite a few more into 1960. Both Gaddy and Dale remained active on the New York scene for decades after. Dale is featured on many Gaddy recordings including four sides for Jax and Harlem in 1952, for Dot in 1954, for Harlem in 1955 and for Old Town between 1956 and 1958. Dale's Old Town sides can be found on several Ace collections including Bob Gaddy: Harlem Blues Operator, Old Town Blues Vol. 2 – The Uptown Sides and Harlem Hit Parade: Old Town Blues Vol. 2.

Dale is also the vocalist on the rousing "I'm Tired" b/w "Where Is My Honey" by Big Red McHouston (alias Mickey Baker) on Groove. In 1954 he had the first release under his own name. A session for RCA's Groove subsidiary on June 21, 1954, produced four tracks, including the menacing  "You Better Heed My Warning", which came out on Groove b/w "Please Tell Me". The two other songs from this fruitful session, "Down To the Bottom" and "Midnight Hours", were originally unissued. Also from this session is "I'm Tired" and "Stranger Blues" also featuring Baker. These tracks can be found on the Bear Family CD Mickey Baker: Rock With A Sock. In the early and mid-'50s, Baker did countless sessions for Atlantic, King, RCA, Decca, and OKeh, playing on such classics as the Drifters' "Money Honey" and "Such a Night," Joe Turner's "Shake Rattle & Roll," Ruth Brown's "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean," and Big Maybelle's "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On." He also released a few singles under his own name. Baker was also recorded as half of the duo Mickey & Sylvia.

His next vocal session was for Herald in 1955, yielding one single release, again backed by Baker. The next year rock 'n' roll exploded on the music scene and inevitably, Dale tried his hand at the genre, with "Rock 'n' Roll Baby" b/w "Hoppin' and Skippin'for Ember. For the next four years, Dale worked the New York club circuit with his lifelong friend, pianist Bob Gaddy and was much in demand as a session player. Particularly impressive is his playing on Champion Jack Dupree's recordings from this period, especially the Atlantic LP Blues From the Gutter. Blues From The Gutter, cut for Atlantic in 1958 (in stereo), is Dupree's finest album of his  prolific career and Dale's playing is brilliant. His playing on that album supposedly inspired Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. Dale also backed Dupree on over a dozen excellent sides in 1956 and 1957 for the Vik and Groove labels. These sides have been collected on the excellent album Shake Baby Shake.

Also in 1957 Dale also did several sessions with Cootie Williams for RCA, where he was given an occasional chance to sing. As Dale recalled: "One night we were playing at the Sportsman's Lounge and Cootie Williams came in and he was in the audience, I didn't know he was there. So Cootie dug what we was doing. The next day he called me, 'I was up to listen to you last night'. I said, 'Oh yeah, who is this'. He said, 'Cootie Williams. I wonder if you want to  come with my band?'. l said, 'No I don't think so, l got my own band, my name's up top' (laughs) but started to think about it,  Cootie's big. Maybe we can get some recordings. Maybe I can get a name out there. …So. I stayed with Cootie about three years. 1956, '57 and early '58." As a member of the Cootie Williams Orchestra he traveled all over the U.S. and Europe. Cootie Williams was one of the finest trumpeters of the 1930's. He played for a short time with the orchestras of Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson before joining Duke Ellington in February 1929, staying until 1940. He would rejoin Ellington from 1962 through 1974, but led his own bands prior to that.

In 1960, Dale did another vocal session, for the Old Town subsidiary Glover in New York City, resulting in two fine singles, "Big Muddy" and "Let the Door Bell Ring" which hit the R&B charts. The next year he was signed by Atlantic, but of the five tracks recorded in November 1961, only "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" b/w "Keep Getting Up" was issued. Singles on Ram (1968) and Fire (1969) rounded out Dale's recording career as a vocalist. None of his recordings charted nationally, but Dale continued to perform for several decades and garnered a strong fan base in Europe, performing at Blues Estafette in 1987 .Dale's final recordings included a 45 issued by the Juke Blues magazine in 1987 and a few live sides backed by the European blues combo,the Mojo Blues Band, recorded in 1993.

"Larry Dale: The New York Houserocker" (Juke Blues # 9, 1987 by John Broven) (zip)

Lightnin' HopkinsGoin' Back To FloridaLightnin' Hopkins
Lightnin' HopkinsI Growed Up With The BluesComplete Prestige/Bluesville Recordings
Daddy HotcakesStrange Woman BluesThe Blues in St. Louis Vol. 1
Henry TownsendTired Of Being MistreatedTired Of Being Mistreated
J.D. ShortYou're Tempting MeThe Sonet Blues Story
J.D. ShortSo Much WineBlues from the Mississippi Delta
Billie and De De PierceMarried Man BluesMusic of New Orleans Vol. 3
Edith Johnson & Henry BrownNickel's Worth of LiverThe Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2
Edith Johnson & Henry BrownHenry Brown BluesThe Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2
Barrelhouse Buck20th Street BluesBackcountry Barrelhouse
Speckled RedUncle Sam's BluesThe Barrel-House Blues of Speckled Red,
Pink AndersonYou Don't Know My MindCarolina Medicine Show Hokum & Blues
Pink AndersonThat’s No Way to DoMedicine Show Man
Baby TateSee What You Done DoneSee What You Done Done
Jesse FullerRed River BluesJesse Fuller's Favorite
Furry LewisPearlee BluesFurry Lewis
Furry LewisKassie JonesFurry Lewis
Memphis Willie B.Uncle Sam BluesHard Working Man Blues
Robert Pete WilliamsCome Here Sit Down on My KneeLegacy of the Blues Vol. 9
Billy Boy ArnoldTwo Drinks Of WineMore Blues On The South Side
Homesick JamesThe Woman I'm Lovin'Blues on the South Side
Buddy GuyA Man And The BluesA Man And The Blues
Otis SpannSometimes I WonderChicago The Blues Today!
J.B. HuttoMarried Woman BluesChicago The Blues Today!
Junior WellsHelp MeChicago The Blues Today!
Otis RushIt’s My Own FaultChicago The Blues Today!
Johnny YoungOne More TimeChicago The Blues Today!
Johnny ShinesDynaflowChicago The Blues Today!

Show Notes:

At Izzy young's Folklore Center, MacDougal Street, NYC,
l-r Sam charters, Izzy Young, Memphis Willie B., Furry
Lewis, and Gus cannon, 1964 (Photo by Ann Charters)

Samuel Charters played a central role in the folk revival of the 1950's and 1960's. His fieldwork, extensive liner notes, production efforts, and books served as an introduction to many who had never heard of artists like Lightnin' Hopkins and Robert Johnson. Charters was born in 1929 and graduated from Sacramento City College in 1949. In 1951, at the age of 21, he moved to New Orleans. After a two-year stint in the Army, he began to study jazz, but soon felt himself drawn to rural blues. Encouraged by fellow jazz researcher Frederic Ramsey, Charters began recording jazz and blues artists in 1955. The following year Folkways Records began issuing his recordings. Charters  work as a field recorder and researcher  would be poured into his first book in 1959, The Country Blues. "…The Country Blues was the first full-length treatment of the topic," wrote Benjamin Filene in Romancing the Folk, "and its evocative style inspired thousands of whites to explore the music." Unlike the more formal music histories written by Paul Oliver, Charters' book was a popular history designed to pass on his enthusiasm for the blues to others. A companion album, also titled The Country Blues, would simultaneously be released on Folkways' RBF reissue series for which Charters produced about twenty albums. His other claim to fame during this period was his re-discovery, after a lengthy search, of Sam Lightnin' Hopkins who he recorded for Folkways in 1959.

In the 60's Charters wrote several books including The Poetry of the Blues and The Bluesmen. A 1961 trip for Prestige Records yielded records by Furry Lewis, Memphis Willie B., Baby Tate and Pink Anderson. Charters visited St. Louis to do recording sessions in 1961 and 1962 resulting in several albums by Henry Townsend, Henry Brown and Edith Johnson, Dady Hotcakes, J.D. Short, Speckled Red and Barrelhouse Buck. In 1963 he was hired by Prestige as an A&R representative, and oversaw the Bluesville and Folklore series.

Sam charters recording Sleepy John Estes,
Brownsville, TN, 1962 (Photo by Ann Charters)

Charters' Prestige recordings of Homesick James, Billy Boy Arnold, and Otis Spann were some of the first electric blues releases aimed at the revival market. He continued in this vein as an independent producer for Vanguard with the influential three-volume anthology Chicago: The Blues Today as well as solo albums by Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, James Cotton and Charlie Musselwhite.

In the early 70's Charters moved to Sweden where he worked as a producer for Sonet. The twelve-volume series Legacy of the Blues resulted in a similarly titled book. He also recorded zydeco albums during this period by Clifton Chenier and Rockin' Dopsie.

On today's program we track recordings charters made from the late 1950's through the early 70's'. Much of the background on today's artists come from Charters' own writings, either taken from the original liner notes or Walking A Blues Road: A Blues Reader 1956-2004 a collection of his writings issued in 2004. The First half of the show is devoted primarily to acoustic blues artists. As Charters wrote: "In the first years of the blues rediscoveries there was a heady level of excitement just at finding that the blues was more than names on old phonograph records. For any of us who had come to the blues through our interest in classic jazz or through our involvement in the folk movement, the modern electric blues was considered with some wariness as an intrusion on the 'folk' spirit of the blues. For myself, there was also a sense of urgency. The younger blues artists in places like Chicago or Detroit could wait – whatever we thought of their style of the blues. The older blues artists who were still living in rented rooms or tenement apartments in cities like Memphis or Atlanta didn't have so many years ahead of them, and if we didn't save their stories and their music their rich legacy would slip away from us."

"My life as a record producer began with a duet session that I set up and recorded with Billie and Dee Dee [Pierce] in the spring of 1954. …The material from the session was released by Folkways as part of the series I recorded and complied with some tracks done by other field collectors in the city titled The Music of New Orleans. Billie and Dee Dee were included in Volume Three of the series, Music of the Dance Halls… …If you're interested in the old New Orleans jazz styles there are still a dozen places to hear bands, even if most of them don't have music every weekend, and you never know who's going to play unless one of the musicians calls you. What we knew about Luthjen's was that every night on the weekends Billie Pierce would be sitting on the bench of the place's much battered piano and singing the blues, and her husband Dee Dee Pierce would be sitting on an old kitchen chair beside her,  adding the lyric trumpet fills that are an indispensable musical complement to the classic blues style." From the above mentioned album we play "Married Man Blues."

Read Liner Notes (PDF)

We spin  a pair of cuts by Lightnin' Hopkins who Charters located after a lengthy period of not recordings. "On a windy winter morning in January 1959 I was driving along Dowling Street, in Houston, Texas. I stopped at a red light and a car pulled up beside mine. The window was rolled down, and a thin, nervous man, wearing dark glasses, leaned toward me.

'You lookin' for me?'
'Are you Lightnin'?'
'Lightnin", I said, 'I sure am.'

"I had been looking for lightnin' Hopkins, off and on, for the five years that had passed since I first heard him on record. …I was in and out of Houston for the next five years, recording, interviewing musicians, and asking about Lightnin' Hopkins. …When I finally found him he was anxious to begin recording again, and after I'd rented an acoustic guitar for him  I carried the tape recorder I had in the trunk of my car into his shabby room on Hadley Street. He sang all afternoon, becoming more emotional and even more musically exciting as the hours passed." The results were issued on a self-titled album on Folkways.  The results helped introduced his music to an entirely new audience. Soon after Hopkins went from gigging at back-alley gin joints to starring at collegiate coffeehouses, appearing on TV programs, and touring Europe. He was recording more prolifically then ever, laying down albums for World Pacific, Vee-Jay,Bluesville, Bobby Robinson’s Fire label, Candid, Arhoolie, Verve and, in 1965, the first of several LP’s for Stan Lewis’ Shreveport-based Jewel logo. During the 70's his recording activity slowed, cutting just a handful of sessions for verve and Sonet with several live collections issued. He was still touring widely and made trips to Mexico, Japan and Germany.  After a final gig at Tramps in New York in November 1981 he returned to Houston where his health declined rapidly. He passed January 30, 1982.

Read Liner Notes (PDF)

Charters visited St. Louis to do recording sessions in 1961 and 1962 resulting in several fine albums of material. As Charters wrote: “I first visited St. Louis on the long research trip for The Country Blues in January 1959 …We were in the city again for two recordings trips, the first in May of 1961, and the second, to film J.D. Short for the documentary film The Blues, in the summer of 1962. Two of the albums, by Henry Townsend and Barrelhouse Buck, were released at the time of recording. One album, with J.D. Short, was released as part of the Legacy of the Blues series in 1973, and the other albums were released by Folkways in 1984.

George “Daddy Hotcakes” Montgomery was born in Georgia and came moved to St. Louis in 1918. He began singing the blues as a youngster and worked as an entertainer during the 1920’s. Sometime in the late 30’s he had an opportunity to record through blues artist and talent scout Charlie Jordan but the recording session fell through. He was still occasionally playing parties when Charters recorded him in 1961. These are his only recordings. As Charters wrote: "I am still also as surprised -when I listen to what we recorded in his room over the next two or threes days – at the complete, natural spontaneity of his blues. …Using his imagination and a store of familiar blues phrase to help him through occasional hesitations he simply made up the songs as he went along. I had some of the same experience when I recorded Lightnin' Hopkins and Robert Pete Williams but even as loose and free as they were with their blues I still could anticipate most of what they were going to do. With George, however, I never could be sure what might come next if I asked him to repeat anything." …The songs George recorded in his room – as far as I know these were his only recordings -made me conscious again of the haphazard circumstances that left their mark on what we knew of the blues. How many singers were there like George, who missed a recording trip because they didn't get the times right? How many were there who never were heard by anyone who knew where to send them to get their songs on record?" these recordings were issued on Folkways under the title The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 1: Daddy Hotcakes (originally planned to be issued on Bluesville).

Read Liner Notes (PDF)

While in St. Louis Charters cut an excellent album by veteran bluesman Henry Townsend backed his friend Tommy Bankhead. The results were issued on Bluesville as Tired of Being Mistreated and on Folkways as The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 3: Henry Townsend.  Townsend was one of the only artists to have recorded in every decade for the last 80 years.  He first recorded in 1929 and remained active up to 2006. "One of the things that was most intriguing for me about working with Henry was that this was the first time I'd ever recorded anyone playing an electric guitar. …The first blues they ran down together wiped out an lingering prejudices I had against electric instruments. It wasn't electric guitars that had changed the blues. It was the life in the African American ghettos, the new society, experiences of the people who created the blues that had changed, and it was the new instrument and their changes sound that expressed the new conditions of  their lives."

Charters also recorded  a fine session by Edith Johnson and Henry Brown. The results were issued on the album The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 2: Henry Brown and Edith Johnson – Barrelhouse Piano and Classic Blues. Edith Johnson recorded eighteen sides in 1928/29 as “Edith North Johnson”, “Hattie North” and “Maybelle Allen.” Henry Brown worked clubs such as the Blue Flame Club, the 9-0-5 Club, Jim’s Place and Katy Red’s, from the twenties into the 30’s. Recorded for Brunswisck with Ike Rogers and Mary Johnson in 1929, for Paramount in Richmond and Grafton in ‘29 and ‘30. He served in the army in the early ’40s, then formed his own quartet to work occasional local gigs in St. Louis area from the ’50s, and worked the Becky Thatcher riverboat, St. Louis in 1965. In addition to his pre-war recordings, he was recorded by Paul Oliver in 1960 and by Adelphi in 1969.

J.D. Short recorded two sessions in the early ’30s for Paramount and Vocalion, then quickly faded into obscurity. Charters recorded Short at his transplanted home base of St. Louis in 1961. As Charters writes in the notes: “The recording that we did in his house that summer – mostly in the kitchen to get away from the noises in the street – was his last, but we didn’t have any idea of it. I was filming him for a sequence in The Blues and trying to get his ideas about the backgrounds and the aesthetics of the blues for The Poetry Of The Blues so we recorded a lot of music – new versions of songs he’d done before – new songs – and his own comments about the styles and the music.” Short unexpectedly passed away shortly after this session at the age of 60. Charters' recordings of Short can be found on the albums J.D. Short and Son House: Blues from the Mississippi Delta and album as part of  The Legacy of the Blues series released in the 70's.

St. Louis was always a good piano blues town, and in addition to recording Henry Brown, Charters also captured Barrelhouse Buck and Speckled Red. Barrelhouse Buck McFarland cut his final session for Folkways and an unissued session in 1961 that was belatedly released a few years back on Delmark. The recordings Charters made were released on Folkways as Backcountry Barrelhouse. He died shortly afterward. McFarland was born in Alton, Illinois in 1903 in the same area as two other exceptional piano players, Wesley Wallace and Jabbo Williams, all three of which made names for themselves on the bustling St. Louis blues scene. McFarland got his shot in the recording studio waxing ten sides; two for Paramount in 1929, two for Decca in 1934 and four more for Decca in 1935, which were not issued. Speckled Red (born Rufus Perryman) was born in Monroe, LA, but he made his reputation as part of the St. Louis and Memphis blues scenes of the ’20s and ’30s. In 1929, he cut his first recording sessions. One song from these sessions, “The Dirty Dozens,” was released on Brunswick and became a hit in late 1929. In 1938, he cut a few sides for Bluebird. In the early ’40s, Red moved to St. Louis, where he played local clubs and bars for the next decade and a half. Charlie O’Brien, a St. Louis policeman and something of a blues aficionado “rediscovered” Speckled Red on December 14, 1954, who subsequently was signed to Delmark Records as their first blues artist. Several recordings were made in 1956 and 1957 for Tone, Delmark, Folkways, and Storyville record labels. The recordings Charters made were issued on Folkway under the title The Barrel-House Blues of Speckled Red.

Charters also spent time in Memphis getting to know and record some of the city's pre-war blues recording artists. "Will Shade, the guitar and harmonica player who had organized the Memphis Jug Band for victor Records in 1927, had remembered Furry in a conversation in February 1959. …I looked out the window,  over the roofs toward Beale Street, and said to him, thinking out loud as much as anything else, 'I certainly would like to have heard some of those old blues singers, Jim Jackson, Furry Lewis, John Estes, Frank Stokes…' Will leaned out of his chair and called to his wife, Jennie Mae, who was working in the kitchen. 'Jennie Mae, when was the last time you saw that fellow they call 'Furry'?' '…Furry Lewis you mean? I saw him just last week.'" Charters eventually found Furry: "He no longer had a guitar and he hadn't played much in twenty years, but when I asked him if he could sing and play he straightened and said, 'I'm better now than I ever was.'"  Lewis returned to the studio under Charters' direction, first cutting a self-titled album for Folkways in 1959 and then two albums for the Prestige/Bluesville label in 1961.

"Usually I stop by Will's whenever I'm in Memphis, and over the years he's led me to other singers like Gus Cannon, Charlie Burse and Furry Lewis. …I stopped by in April 1961 …he mentioned that one of the blues singers he's known in the 1930s has stopped by his place a few weeks before. 'His name's Willie B. I don't know what all his name is, but that's what we call him. Willie B. He's one of those real hard blues singers like you're always asking about. …He"ll sing the real old hard blues for you.'" Charters recorded Borum at a  session at the Sun studios for Prestige's Bluesville label, with one more session to follow. The albums were issued as Introducing Memphis Willie B. and Hard Working Man Blues. Borum, was a mainstay of the Memphis blues and jug band circuit. He took to the guitar early in his childhood, being principally taught by his father and Memphis medicine show star Jim Jackson. By his late teens, he was working with Jack Kelly's Jug Busters. This didn't last long, as Borum joined up with the Memphis Jug Band. Sometime in the '30s he learned to play harmonica, being taught by Noah Lewis, the best harp blower in Memphis and mainstay of Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers. Willie B. began working on and off with various traveling Delta bluesmen, performing at various functions with Rice Miller, Willie Brown, Garfield Akers, and Robert Johnson. He finally got to make some records in 1934 for Vocalion backing Hattie Hart and Allen Shaw, but quickly moved back into playing juke joints and gambling houses with Son Joe, Joe Hill Louis and Will Shade until around 1943, when he became a member of the U.S. Army. Memphis Willie B. passed in 1993.

Read Liner Notes

In South Carolina Charters made important recordings by Pink Anderson and Baby Tate. Anderson was born in South Carolina and early on sang in the streets for pennies. He was self-taught as a guitarist and toured throughout the Southeast with a variety of medicine shows during 1915-1945, picking up work wherever he could. He was employed not only as a musician and a singer but as a dancer and comedian. Anderson recorded four titles in 1928 with his partner Simmie Dooley but did not make another record until 1950 for Riverside, sharing an album with Rev. Gary Davis. Anderson continued to work at parties, street fairs, and medicine shows during the first half of the 1950s before retiring for a time due to ill health. But in 1961 the Bluesville label sent Charters to record him. He recorded three albums of unaccompanied performances by Anderson, documenting him in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Carters also recorded one album by Anderson that was issued on Folkways as Carolina Medicine Show Hokum And Blues. Anderson stayed active on a part-time basis up until the time of his death in 1974.

Guitarist Baby Tate recorded only a handful of sessions, spending the bulk of his life as a sideman, playing with musicians like Blind Boy Fuller, Pink Anderson, and Peg Leg Sam. When he was 14 years old, Tate taught himself how to play guitar. Shortly afterward, he began playing with Blind Boy Fuller, who taught Tate the fundamentals of blues guitar. For most of the '30s, Baby played music as a hobby, performing at local parties, celebrations, and medicine shows. Tate picked up music again in 1946, setting out on the local blues club circuit. In the early '50s, Baby moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he performed both as a solo act and as a duo with Pink Anderson. In 1962, Charters recorded Tate for the album, See What You Done Done for Bluesville. The following year, he was featured in Charters' documentary film, The Blues. For the rest of the decade, Baby Tate played various gigs, concerts, and festivals across America. With the assistance of harmonica player Peg Leg Sam, Baby Tate recorded another set of sessions in 1972. Pete Lowry recorded him extensively in 1970 but theses sides remain unreleased. He died on August 17, 1972.

Charters first foray into recording Chicago electric blues were a batch of albums for Prestige/Bluesville including sessions by Otis Spann, Homesick James and Billy Boy Arnold. Born in Chicago, Billy Boy was gravitated who was a big influence. Still in his teens, Arnold cut his debut 78 for the obscure Cool logo in 1952. "Arnold made an auspicious connection when he joined forces with Bo Diddley and played on the his two-sided 1955 debut smash "Bo Diddley"/"I'm a Man" for Checker. That led, in a roundabout way, to Billy Boy's signing with rival Vee-Jay Records. Arnold's "I Wish You Would," utilizing that familiar Bo Diddley beat, sold well and inspired a later famous cover by the Yardbirds. Thhe group also took a liking to another Arnold classic on Vee-Jay, "I Ain't Got You." Other Vee-Jay standouts by Arnold included "Prisoner's Plea" and "Rockinitis," but by 1958, his tenure at the label was over. Other than an excellent Samuel Charters-produced 1963 album for Prestige, More Blues on the South Side, Arnold retained a low profile until signing with Alligator in the 90's.

Homesick James was playing guitar at age ten and soon ran away from his Tennessee home to play at fish fries and dances. His travels took the guitarist through Mississippi and North Carolina during the 1920s, where he crossed paths with Yank Rachell, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Boy Fuller, and Big Joe Williams.Settling in Chicago during the 1930s, Williamson played local clubs. Williamson made some fine sides in 1952-53 for Chance Records. James also worked extensively as a sideman, backing harp great Sonny Boy Williamson in 1945 at a Chicago gin joint called the Purple Cat and during the 1950s with his cousin, Elmore James. He also recorded with James during the 1950s. Homesick's own output included 45's for Colt and USA in 1962, and the album for Blues On The South Side produced by Charters.

"I came to Chicago for the first time in the winter of 1959, as part of the long research trip for the book The Country Blues. …For the next few years I was in and out of Chicago – and after so many nights down on the south side listening to the  bands, I was becoming more and more impatient to go into a recording studio to document some of the unforgettable music I was hearing. But the companies I was involved with – Folkways and Prestige – either didn't have the money for the sessions, or they weren't ready to record the electric blues." Fortunately Charters  hooked up with Vanguard Records who were more receptive to the idea.

In early 1966, Vanguard issued three-volume set, Chicago/The Blues/Today!. Every artist on the three volumes had recorded before (some, like Otis Rush and Junior Wells, had actually seen small hits on the R&B charts), but these recordings were largely their introduction to a newer — and predominately white — album-oriented audience. This series accurately portrayed a vast cross section of the Chicago blues scene as one could hear it on any given night in the mid-'60s. Rather than record full albums (which Charters had neither the budget nor the legal resources to pull off), each artist simply came in for a union-approved session of four to six songs, with each volume featuring three different groupings. Other notable records Charters cut for Vanguard include Buddy Guy's A Man And The Blues,the guitarist's first album away from Chess and Junior Wells' It's My Life Baby, a mix of studio recordings and live tracks recorded at Pepper's Lounge in Chicago.

Charters and his family moved to Sweden in1971 and began working with a local record company called Sonet. He was eventually asked to do a blues series for the label. The series, Legacy of the Blues, ran to twelve albums with Charters producing the series as well as writing extensive liner notes for each. The notes were expanded for a book of the same name which was published in 1975. The entire series has been reissued on CD by Verve in 2006. As was often the case, Charters was able to coax some exceptional performances resulting in some  excellent albums by Memphis Slim, Robert Pete Williams and Snooks Eaglin.


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