1960′s Blues


Show Notes:

Newspaper photo of Son House, and a July 14
Rochester Times-Union article about his comeback.

"I'm talking about the blues now, I ain't talkin' about no monkey junk"

Today's title come from a term Son House used often as his biographer Dan Beaumont explains: "House had an amusing phrase he would use when asked about the blues being played in the 1960's. It was a phrase he used to dismiss much of the blues music of that period. ‘It’s not the blues,’ he would say. ‘It’s just a lot of monkey junk.’ The blues so dominated House’s life-we have now established the price that he had paid for it-that a period in which he all but ceased playing it may well have seemed to him simply so much ‘monkey junk.’” As anyone who's listened to Son House knows, there was nothing frivolous or gimmicky about Son's blues. In his hands the blues were a gripping, all consuming feeling:

You know, the blues ain't nothin' but a low-down shakin', low-down shakin', achin' chill
I say the blues is a low-down, old, achin' chill
Well, if you ain't had 'em, honey, I hope you never will

Well, the blues, the blues is a worried heart, is a worried heart, heart disease
Oh, the blues is a worried old heart disease

(The Jinx Blues Part 1, 1942)

Today's show is our annual tribute to Son House who created some of the most visceral and gripping blues of the 1930's and 40's and who emerged after two decades to find himself bewilderingly hailed as a blues hero to young white audiences around the world. It's with a matter of pride that Son's comeback came in my adopted hometown of Rochester, NY. Over the years I met numerous people who fondly recalled Son House here in Rochester and when I started doing my yearly radio birthday tributes it brought even more people out of the woodwork who gladly shared their memories with me. So it’s puzzling that the city has never honored Son in anyway. For years myself and others thought someone should rectify this sorry state of affairs; a plaque, a statue or something to honor one of the pivotal figures in blues history. The sad fact is there is nothing tangible in this city that shows Son ever made this city his home for a good part of his life (1943-1976). It's worth noting that Son does have a plaque in Tunica, MS as part of the Mississippi Commission's Blues Trail.

2009 Hot Blues For The Homeless …A Tribute To Son House Poster

Next week marks the third Hot Blues For The Homeless concert I put on with several other dedicated folks.  Now billed as Hot Blues For The Homeless …A Tribute To Son House,  we had a fantastic turn out last year, raised a good deal of money for the Rochester homeless and hopefully raised some awareness about Son House. If you live in Rochester, live close by are just visiting on June 7th make sure to help us celebrate the memory of Son House.

On today's program we start out by playing the bulk of Son's legendary Paramount recordings. In 1930, Arthur Laibley who had produced Charlie Patton’s last session for Paramount, stopped in Lula to arrange another session with Patton. Patton was famous throughout the Delta and had already recorded close to forty sides for the label. Patton told Laibley about House and about two other musicians Willie Brown and Louise Johnson, setting the stage for one of the blues most legendary recording sessions. The group headed to the Paramount studios in Grafton, WI, where House recorded six songs at the session, three of which were long enough to fill both sides of a 78: "Dry Spell Blues," "Preachin’ The Blues," and "My Black Mama." Two songs, "Clarksdale Moan" and "Mississippi County Farm Blues" were issued as a 78, with a lone copy surfacing just recently. In September 2005, a collector announced he had obtained the lost "Clarksdale Moan" 78 in reasonably decent condition. The details of this discovery are not known to the public as the collector has chosen to remain anonymous. On April 4, 2006, both "Clarksdale Moan" and "Mississippi County Farm Blues" were released on the collection The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of from Yazoo Records. While "Clarksdale Moan" is a previously unknown song, "Mississippi County Farm Blues" is an earlier (and faster) version of a song Son House later recorded at his Library of Congress recording session in 1941. The unissued test of "Walking Blues" we spin was not found until 1985.

Rochester Times-Union article about Son House from July 6, 1964. This is the first article written about Son's rediscovery.

Despite the disappointing sales of his records, for House the Grafton experience marked the beginning of a long musical friendship with Willie Brown. For much of the 30’s House reverted to his former pattern of preaching and then going back to the blues, usually at the prompting of Brown. He and Brown played all over the Delta as well as Arkansas and Tennessee for the rest of the 1930’s. In August of 1941 the folklorist Alan Lomax found House working as a tractor driver on a plantation near Robinsonville. House took Lomax a few miles north to Lake Cormorant where Willie Brown lived. They rounded up two other musicians, Fiddlin’ Joe Martin and Leroy Williams. Behind Clack’s general store, House recorded five songs for Lomax. The next summer in July, House recorded, unaccompanied, ten more songs for Lomax.

A year after the Library of Congress sides House vanished, or did the next best thing which was to move to Rochester, NY. More than two decades would pass before he would resurface. On June 23rd of 1964, Dick Waterman, Phil Spiro and Nick Perls found House living on 61 Grieg Street in Rochester, NY. Waterman became Son’s manager and the following year he was signed to Columbia and played the Newport Folk Festival. Son had several good years on the comeback trail; he toured the US playing folk festivals and the coffeehouse circuit and he did tours of Europe as well. He also performed locally in Rochester. From these later years we spin several tracks for his superb comeback album Father Of The Delta Blues plus several live cuts.

Also on today's program is my good friend Dan Beaumont. University of Rochester professor Dan Beaumont discusses  his forthcoming book, Preachin' the Blues: The Life And Music Of Son House. This is the first full-length biography of Son House and will be published by Oxford University Press in 2010. Dan will also be reading excerpts from the book at the workshop component of the Hot Blues event. in addition we also play a couple of clips of Dick Waterman talking about Son from an interview I conducted with Dick several years ago and who was a guest at last year's event.



Show Notes:

For today's show we continue with our ongoing series I call Forgotten Blues Heroes. For this installment we spotlight four great bluesmen who didn't get the opportunity to record until the 1960's and 1970's: Scott Dunbar, Bill Williams, Babe Stovall and Frank Hovington. As the blues historian Paul Oliver wrote: "Throughout the Sixties, it seemed there was one 'discovery' or 'rediscovery' of a blues singer after another; a succession of methodical searches, happy accidents and dramatic events which brought not only a number of legendary figures to life, but also revealed that the wealth of talent in the black traditions had been even greater than might have been supposed."

All of today's featured artists were old enough to have been recorded earlier but opportunity passed them by until the blues revival of the 1960's. In addition to the resurrection of the legendary artists of the past like Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White and Skip James there were a slew of older artists uncovered who got a chance to make some recordings such as Mississippi Fred McDowell, Robert Pete Williams and Mance Lipscomb to name a few. 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. The benefit wasn't in sales of records so much as it was the fact that these recordings would be an entry way into the festival and coffeehouse circuit. Unfortunately many of these small labels never lasted into the CD era and hence many great albums remain long out of print. The bulk of today's recordings fall into that category.

Scott Dunbar

In the notes to his sole album, From Lake Mary issued on the Ahura Mazda label in 1970, Karl Micheal Wolfe wrote that "Today Scott Dunbar is a fisherman and guide on Lake Mary, father of six, and resident blues singer of Woodville and rural Wilkinson County, Mississippi. There everyone knows old Scott. We hope this record will make him known to a wider audience." Prior to the recordings in 1970 Dunbar was recorded by Frederic Ramsey, Jr. in 1954 as part of field recordings done under a grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Ramsey's recordings appeared on the ten volume series Music from the South on Folkways with four of Dunbar's recordings on Music From The South Vol. 5: Song, Play And Dance and one side on Music From The South Vol. 10: Been Here And Gone. Three more issued sides were recorded in 1968, which appeared on the album Blues From The Delta, the companion album to William Ferris' influential book of the same name.

Dunbar gave up the juke joints because they were too dangerous and in later years played primarily for whites. William Ferris wrote in Blues From The Delta that "I recorded thirty-seven songs during my visits with Dunbar and of these, two thirds were sung white style in the key of C. " The thirteen songs on From Lake Mary are mostly blues, likely selected to appeal to the blues revival market while the vast majority of recordings from this session have not been issued, forty-eight unissued sides in total.  At lengthy recording sessions n February, April and August of 1970 Dunbar proves to be a true songster, laying down songs like "Wabash Cannonball", "Sally Good'n", "Blue Heaven", "Tennessee Waltz" and  "You Are My Sunshine." In 1994 Fat Possum reissued From Lake Mary on CD with no additional tracks.Dunbar passed away at the age of 90 in 1994 with his death largely unnoticed outside of a couple of obituaries in blues magazines and a recorded legacy of  nineteen issued sides.

Bill Williams, was a 72-year old bluesman from Greenup, Kentucky, when he made his debut for Blue Goose in the early 1970's. Stephen Calt wrote that "The previously unrecorded Williams ranks among the most polished and proficient living traditional bluesmen, and has a large repertoire embracing ragtime, hillbilly, and even pop material. He is also the only known living associate of Blind Blake, his own favorite guitarist. …Disbelief is the inevitable reaction to incredible Bill Williams, a former partner of Blind Blake who is without doubt the most technically accomplished living country blues guitarist. …While living in Bristol, Tennessee in the early 1920's Bill met the peerless Blind Blake who was then living with an elderly woman (perhaps a relative) in a desolate nearby country area. For four months Bill worked as Blake's regular second guitarist…" Williams cut just two LP's, both for Blue Goose: Low And Lonesome and The Late Bill Williams 'Blues, Rags and Ballads plus had one song on the anthology These Blues Is Meant To Be Barrelhoused.

From the notes to The Late Bill Williams 'Blues, Rags and Ballads, Stephen Calt wrote: "For a guitarist of such uncommon ability Bill Williams enjoyed an all-too brief period of public recognition. Within fifteen minutes of the time he first picked up an instrument in 1908 he was accomplished enough to play a song, but he was still completely unknown beyond his home town of Greenup, Kentucky before Blue Goose recorded him in the fall of 1970 and issued an album (Low and Lonesome) that brought him unqualified acclaim as a 73-year old folk find. A brief series of concert engagements (notably at the Smithsonian Institution and the Mariposa Folk Festival) followed, along with an extended recording session in New York, before a heart ailment brought about his musical retirement. In October of 1973, nearly three years to the day of his recording debut, he was fatally stricken in his sleep. This memorial album and its soon to be released sequel will constitute the remainder of Bill's musical legacy."

Jewell "Babe" Stovall was a Mississippi-born songster who was born in 1907 in Tylertown, MS, Babe was the youngest of 11 children, most of them musicians. Stovall learned guitar when he was around eight years old, and was soon playing breakdowns, frolics, and parties in the area, even meeting and learning "Big Road Blues" from Tommy Johnson. He moved to Franklinton, LA, in the 1930s, and split his time between there and Tylertown for several years, picking up whatever work he could as a farmhand. In 1964 he moved to New Orleans, where he was "discovered" working as a street singer in the French Quarter, his act featuring crowd-pleasing antics like playing his National Steel guitar behind his head and shouting out his song lyrics in a voice so loud that it carried well down the street. He recorded an LP for Verve in 1964, simply titled Babe Stovall (re-released on CD by Flyright in 1990), and did further sessions in 1966 released on Southern Sound as The Babe Stovall Story and with Bob West in 1968 (which form the basis of The Old Ace: Mississippi Blues & Religious Songs, released on Arcola in 2003), and became active on the folk and blues college circuit, as well as holding down a house gig at the Dream Castle Bar in New Orleans. Stovall died in 1974 in New Orleans.

Bruce Bastin called Frank Hovington or Guitar Frank as he was also known, "one of the finest singers to have been recorded during the 1970's…steeped in a tradition which is as much part of him as is the countryside about him." Bastin and Dick Spotswood recorded Frank in 1975, issuing the album Lonesome Road Blues on the Flyright label (reissued in 2000 as Gone With The Wind with several additional tracks). Frank was still in fine form when he reluctantly agreed to perform for Axel Küstner and Siegfried Christmann in 1980. The results were issued as part of their remarkable Living Country Blues series. Hovington started on ukulele and banjo as a child and teamed with Willliam Walker in the late '30s and '40s playing at house parties and dances in Frederica, Pennsylvania. Hovington moved to Washington D.C. in the late '40s, and backed such groups as Stewart Dixon's Golden Stars and Ernest Ewin's Jubilee Four. Hovington moved to Delaware in 1967 where he passed in 1982.



Show Notes:

Elmore James

Elmore James was undoubtedly the most influential slide guitarist of the postwar period. Although his early death from heart failure kept him from enjoying the fruits of the '60s blues revival like his contemporaries Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf did, Elmore was hugely influential on a generation of guitar players. James always gave it everything he had, everything he could emotionally invest in a number. The fact is that over his twelve-year recording career it can be argued that he never really cut a bad performance. Between 1951 and 1963 James cut about 100 sides for labels like Trumpet, Modern, Chess, Chief, Meteor and Fire. Backing him was one of the greatest Chicago blues bands,the Broomdusters, named after James' big hit, and featuring Little Johnny Jones on piano, J.T. Brown on tenor sax and Elmore's cousin, Homesick James on rhythm guitar. This talented combo was often augmented by a second saxophone on occasion while the drumming stool changed frequently. On later recordings his band would include pianist Johnny "Big Moose" Walker, guitarist Eddie Taylor and Sam Myers on harp. In addition James backed a few artists, particularly in the early years, including Sonny Boy Williamson II, Willie Love and later bandmate Little Johnnie Jones. Today's show spotlights not only great sides James cut under his own name but several sides by his talented bandmates and associates.

With a few months left on his Trumpet contract, Elmore was recorded by the Bihari Brothers for their Modern label subsidiaries, Flair and Meteor, but the results were left in the can until James' contract ran out. In the meantime, Elmore had moved to Chicago and cut a quick session for Chess, which resulted in one single being issued and just as quickly yanked off the market as the Bihari Brothers swooped in to protect their investment. This period of activity found Elmore assembling the nucleus of his great band the Broomdusters and several fine recordings were issued over the next few years on a slew of the Bihari Brothers'owned labels with several of them charting.

Bledding HeartJames was born in Canton, MS on January 27, 1918. He came to music at an early age, learning to play bottleneck on a homemade instrument. By the age of 14, he was already a weekend musician, working the various country suppers and juke joints in the area. He would join up and work with traveling players coming through like Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson. By the late '30s he had formed his first band and was working with Sonny Boy until WW II broke out, spending three years stationed with the Navy in Guam. When he was discharged, he picked off where he left off, moving for a while to Memphis, working in clubs with Eddie Taylor and his cousin Homesick James. James was first recorded by Lillian McMurray of Trumpet Records in 1951 at the tail end of a Sonny Boy session doing his classic "Dust My Broom." Legend has it that James didn't even stay around long enough to hear the playback, much less record a second side. McMurray stuck a local singer (BoBo "Slim" Thomas) on the flip side and the record became the surprise R&B hit of 1951, making the Top Ten. James also backed Trumpet artists Willie Love and Tiny Kennedy the same year.

By the late 1950's James had established a beach-head in the clubs of Chicago as one of the most popular live acts and regularly broadcasting over WPOA under the aegis of disc jockey Big Bill Hill. In 1957, with his contract with the Bihari Brothers at an end, he recorded several successful sides for Mel London's Chief label, all of them later being issued on the larger Vee-Jay label.

In May of 1963, Elmore returned to Chicago, ready to resume his on-again off-again playing career — his records were still being regularly issued and reissued on a variety of labels — when he suffered his final heart attack. His wake was attended by over 400 blues luminaries before his body was shipped back to Mississippi.

Mississippi-born John T. Brown was a member of the Rabbit Foot Minstrels down south before arriving in Chicago. By 1945, Brown was recording behind pianist Roosevelt Sykes and singer St. Louis Jimmy Oden, later backing Eddie Boyd and Washboard Sam for RCA Victor. He debuted on wax as a bandleader in 1950 on the Harlem label, subsequently cutting sessions in 1951 and 1952 for Chicago's United logo as well as JOB. Brown backed Elmore James and pianist Little Johnny Jones on the Meteor and Flair lbels in 1952 and 1953. Meteor issued a couple of singles under Brown's own name. After a final 1956 date for United that laid unissued at the time, Brown's studio activities were limited to sideman roles. In January of 1969, he was part of Fleetwood Mac's Blues Jam at Chess album, even singing a tune for the project, but he died before the close of that year.

Johnny Jones arrived in Chicago from Mississippi in 1946 and was influenced greatly by pianist Big Maceo.Jones followed Maceo into Tampa Red's band in 1947 after Maceo suffered a stroke. In addition to playing behind Tampa Red from 1949 to 1953, he backed Muddy Waters on his 1949 classic "Screamin' and Cryin'" and later appeared on sides by Howlin' Wolf. It's Elmore James that he'll forever be associated with; the pianist played on James' classic 1952-56 Chicago sessions for the Bihari brothers' Meteor, Flair, and Modern labels, as well as dates for Checker, Chief, and Fire. James only had a few opportunities to record under his own name; Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, and Leroy Foster backed Jones on his 1949 Aristocrat label classic "Big Town Playboy", while Elmore James and saxist J.T. Brown were on hand for Jones's 1953 Flair coupling "I May Be Wrong"/"Sweet Little Woman." The rocking "Hoy Hoy," his last commercial single, was done in 1953 for Atlantic and also featured James and his group in support. Jones continued to work in the clubs (with Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Syl Johnson, Billy Boy Arnold, and Magic Sam, among others) prior to his 1964 death of lung cancer at the age of 40.

Something Inside Of MeJames "Homesick" Williamson 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 and cut his first sides in 1952-53 for Chance Records. Homesick also worked extensively as a sideman, backing harp great Sonny Boy Williamson and during the 1950s with his cousin, Elmore James. Homesick backs Elmore on sessions for Chief in 1957, Fire in 1959, Chess in 1960 and again for Fire in 1960 and 1961. Homesick's own recordings included 45s for Colt and USA in 1962, a fine 1964 album for Prestige, and four tracks on a Vanguard anthology in 1965. Homesick was recording and touring up until shortly before his death in 2006.

Eddie Taylor is best know for his guitar work on the great majority of Jimmy Reed's Vee-Jay sides during the 1950s and early '60s, and he even found time to wax a few classic sides of his own for Vee-Jay during the mid-'50s. But Taylor's records didn't sell in the quantities that Reed's did, so he was largely relegated to the role of sideman (he recorded behind John Lee Hooker, John Brim, Elmore James, Snooky Pryor, and many more during the '50s) not cutting his first full-length record until the early 1970's. Taylor backed Elmore on sessions in 1956 for Modern and for Chief in 1957.

During the ‘50s Johnny "Big Moose" Walker played with many local Greenville, MS bluesmen, joined Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm in Clarksdale and sat in with the King Biscuit Boys in Helena, Arkansas and worked the Mississippi juke joints with Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson. He traveled extensively with Earl Hooker. Walker's first studio date was with Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson, for Trumpet Records in Jackson, Mississippi that went unissued. In 1955 Ike Turner taped Moose in a Greenville club; two of those sides, credited to J.W Walker, appeared years later on the Kent Label. He cut his first 45, as Moose John, for Johnny Otis' Ultra label, also in 1955. Moose recorded even more after Sunnyland Slim brought him to Chicago. He backed Earl Hooker, Ricky Allen, Lorenzo Smith and others on local sessions. Willie Dixon took Moose to New York in 1960 to do some studio work for Prestige/Bluesville. Moose rejoined Elmore James at Silvio's on the West Side and went to New Orleans with Elmore to record for Bobby Robinson's Fire label. At another session for Robinson, Moose sang a few himself. He cut some singles during the ‘60s and waxed his first album in 1969 when he and Earl Hooker went to Los Angeles to record for ABC Bluesway. He remained active until the 1980's before suffering a stroke.

Sam Myers cut his first sides for Ace in 1957 and played both drums and harp behind slide guitar great Elmore James at a 1961 session for Bobby Robinson's Fire label in New Orleans. In 1960 he cut a single for Robinson's Fury label and another in 1961 backed by Elmore James and Big Moose Walker. Most listeners know Myers as the frontman for Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets, which lasted for some 20 years before Myers passed in 2006.



Show Notes:

Earl Hooker

[The first four paragraphs are taken from my Earl Hooker entry in the Encyclopedia Of The Blues (Routledge, 2006)]

Among his peers, Earl Hooker is widely considered the greatest guitarist of his generation. His wild performances attracted a loyal following wherever he went as he entertained the crowds by playing behind his back, picking the guitar with his feet or teeth or doing flips on stage without missing a note. Hooker always had a predilection for the latest electric guitar technology becoming famous for his double-neck guitars and even making the wah-wah pedal work in a blues context. In addition to blues he had incorporated Country and Western music in his repertoire early on. Hooker was the archetype of the rambling bluesman having spent most of his life on the road. Along the way he cut singles for a host of tiny labels that did little to get the word out. The result was that he remained little known outside the insular blues world until the late 60's.

Earl Hooker - Blue GuitarBorn in Mississippi, Hooker arrived in Chicago as a child. As a youngster he began playing music in the streets with future blues artists Bo Diddley and Louis Myers. He met Robert Nighthawk in Chicago in the early 40's and it was Nighthawk who became his primary influence, teaching him the rudiments of his remarkable slide technique. Hooker would eventually surpass his mentor, developing an entirely new language for the slide guitar. Hooker frequently ran away from home, often heading down south to play music. During these trips he reunited with Nighthawk, played with Ike Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson and others. He formed the Roadmasters in the early 50's and with constantly changing personnel played all over the country for the next twenty years.

Hooker's initial recordings were in 1952 for King with Johnny O'Neal, cutting sides the following year for Rockin' and Sun. By the early 50's he was back in Chicago cutting singles for Argo, C.J., and Bea & Baby before joining with producer Mel London (owner of Chief and Age) in 1959. For the next four years, he recorded both as sideman and leader for the producer, backing Junior Wells, Bobby Saxton, Lillian Offitt, Ricky Allen, Big Moose Walker and A.C. Reed plus cutting notable instrumentals like "Blue Guitar" and "Blues in D-Natural." He also contributed slide work to Muddy Waters' 1962 Chess waxing "You Shook Me". After Age folded Hooker recorded sporadically between 1964 and 1968 for tiny outfits like Cuca, Jim-Ko, Duplex and again for C.J.

He finally drew increased attention during the late '60s starting with "Two Bugs & a Roach," his first Earl Hooker - Tanyafull-length album, for Arhoolie in 1968. In 1969 he hooked up with *ABC-BluesWay churning out several albums for the label in addition to playing on records of Bluesway artists like Andrew Odom, Johnny "Big Moose" Walker, Charles Brown, his cousin John Lee Hooker and others. In late 1969, Hooker traveled to Europe to play in the *American Folk Blues Festival. By this time, he was quite ill with advancing tuberculosis, a condition he battled his entire life, and after his return was admitted to a Chicago sanitarium where he passed away in April 21, 1970.

Today's show spotlights recordings spanning 1953 through 1969 featuring records Hooker cut under his own name, with a slew of journeyman singers like Little Sam Davis, Johnny O'Neal, Andrew Odom and others backing artists such as Ricky Allen, A.C. Reed, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Charles Brown to name a few. No matter the setting Hooker's brilliantly inventive guitar always makes its presence known and like the best session men he elevates every recording he appears on. We also play a number of Hooker's dazzling instrumentals. Hooker was never confident about his vocal abilities but he was a fine singer as several of today's tracks prove.

From the 1950's we spin a tracks Hooker cut for King, Rockin', States, C.J. and Profile (he also cut sides for Argo and Vee-Jay during this period). Hooker's first sides were cut for King on November 26, 1952 where he backed singer Johnny O'Neal on four numbers (two unissued) plus four instrumentals under his own name. From those sessions we play uptempo "Johnny Feels The Blues" with O'Neal sounding quite a bit like Roy Brown.  Hooker next landed at on the tiny Rockin' label in 1953, a Miami, FL based label run by Henry Stone who also ran the Glory label which issued country music. There Hooker backed singer/harmonica bluesman Little Sammy Davis on four fine numbers. Six titles were cut under Hooker's name but only "Sweet Angel" and "On The Hook" were released with the others sitting in the can for decades. Hooker found his way to Sun the same year where he waxed ten sides (one featuring vocals from Boyd Gilmore, one with vocals fThis Little Voicerom Pinetop Perkins). All these sides were unissued at the time and surface on decades later. in 1957 Hooker did some session work for States including the excellent "Look Me Straight In The Eye" featuring vocals by Arbee Stidham. Hooker bounced over to the Chicago based C.J. label in 1959 run by Carl Jones. From those sessions we play "Yeah Yeah", issued as Earl Hooker & His Road Masters a band that included pianist Johnny "Big Moose" Walker who would become a long time partner of Hooker's. Hooker takes the vocals and turns in a superb vocal performance in addition to plenty of guitar fireworks. also in 1959 Hooker teamed up with Juniro Wells and producer Mel London. London formed the Chief label in 1957 and Hooker cut prolifically for London on Chief and its subsidiary imprints like Profile, Age and Mel-Lon through 1964. Cut in 1959 and released in 1960 on Profile, the infectious "Little By Little", with Junior Wells on the vocals, became a hit staying on the R&B charts for three weeks and climbing to 23.

For the next four years Hooker recorded both as sideman and leader for the London, backing Junior Wells, Bobby Saxton, Lillian Offitt, Ricky Allen, Big Moose Walker and A.C. Reed plus cutting several notable instrumentals. Among the more striking instrumentals cut during this period are "Blues In D Natural", "Universal Rock ", "Blue Guitar" and "The Leading Brand." As Sebastian Danchin wrote in his superlative biography Earl hooker – Blues Master: "The period between 1959 and 1963 was a productive one, both in terms of quality and quantity. Through Mel London, Hooker was involved in over a dozen recording sessions, and his playing was featured on some forty titles and twenty-five singles, a dozen of which were released under his own name, the rest being ascribed to Junior Wells, A.C. Reed, Lillian Offitt, and Ricky Allen." In 1960 Hooker cut a couple of sides for the Bea & Baby label of which we spin the rocking "Trying To Make A Living" featuring vocals by Bobby Saxton. In 1962 Hooker was involved in some recording for Chess and its Checker subsidary. One single was issued for Chess, "Tanya" b/w "Put Your Shoes On Willie", and we pEarl Hooker - Hooker And Stevelay the former, a slide driven version of the Jimmy Liggins song. Hooker also laid down some instrumental tracks that were dubbed later with Muddy Waters' vocals resulting in "You Shook Me", "Little Brown Bird", "You Need Love" plus three unissued tracks.

Between 1964 and 1967 Hooker cut several sessions for the tiny Cuca label, many of which were unreleased. Jim Kirchstein's Cuca label was based out of Sauk City, Illinois and issued a variety of ethnic music as well as jazz, gospel and R&B. Kirchstein initially issued 45's but always had the intention of releasing a whole album on Hooker which finally came to light in 1968 under the title The Genius of Earl Hooker. Hooker's Cuca output was mostly instrumental guitar showcases although vocalists like Muddy Water Jr., Frank "Crying Shame" Clark and A.C. Reed were employed. From those sessions we play the swinging "Swear To Tell The Truth" featuring a fine vocal from Hooker (the song was first cut for Age in 1960 with Harold Tidwell on vocals), the instrumentals "The Foxtrot" and "Something You Got" plus "You Took All My Love "boasting a terrific vocal from Frank "Crying Shame" Clark.  Although unlisted, the sax player on "Something You Got" is J.J. Jackson who moved to Utica, NY in the 1960's. In the 1990's he worked with Rochester bluesman Steve Grills and his band the Roadmasters. In addition to Hooker, Jackson also worked with John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Maybelle, the Buddy Johnson Orchestra and Lee Cooper. Jackson died in 1998. ithe Cuca LP The Genius of Earl Hooker has been reissued in several forms including a vinyl reproduction on Sundazed in 2006, Do You Remember The Great Earl Hooker (Bluesway, 1973), There's A Fungus Amung Us on both Catfish and Red Lightnin' in 1999 and the Cuca collection Earl Hooker: Play Your Guitar Mr. Hooker! issued on Black Magic in 1985 and reissued under the same title for Black Top in 1993.

Hooker finally drew increased attention during the late 1960's starting with Two Bugs & a Roach, his first Earl Hooker - Don't Have To Worryfull-length album for Arhoolie in 1968. Label owner Chris Strachwitz was looking to record some Chicago blues and asked the advice of Buddy Guy on who he should record. According to Strachwitz, Guy said "If you ever ask a Chicago bluesman about who is the best guitar player in town, they will admit it's Earl Hooker." Hooker's crack band for the session included Pinetop Perkins, Andrew Odom, Freddy Roulette, Carey Bell and Louis Myers. Hooker cut another album for Arhoolie in 1969. Hooker And Steve featured organist Steve Miller who had a band called the Prophets who had sometimes shared the bill with Hooker when Hooker worked the clubs in Waterloo, Iowa which was Miller's hometown.

In 1969 Hooker hooked up with ABC-BluesWay playing on records of Bluesway artists like Andrew Odum, Johnny "Big Moose" Walker, Charles Brown, his cousin John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Witherspoon and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. Hooker also cut the album Sweet Black Angel in 1969 a mostly instrumental outing produced by Ike Turner. From that session we play the lone vocal, sung by Hooker, a wah wah soaked version of "Sweet Home Chicago" finding Hooker in superb voice. Although Ike Turner is credited as the pianist I've talked to Ernest Lane (Lane played piano on some of Hooker's 1950's recordings for Sun) who tells me he was the pianist on this session and I have no reason to doubt him. Hooker's lone Bluesway album under his own name, Don't Have To Worry, has unfortunately not be issued on CD although some tracks appear on the Bluesway collection Simply The Best issued in 1999. From Don't Have To Worry we play the rocking "You Got To Lose" featuring a good vocal from Hooker and some wild wah wah guitar. We wrap up the show with Hooker playing behind Bluesway artists Charles Brown and longtime buddies Andrew Odom and Johnny "Big Moose" Walker. Odom's first rEarl Hooker - The moon is Risingelease under his own name, Farther On Down The Road, was recorded in 1969 but not released until several years later. While sporting mostly blues standards, Odom's debut is a terrific outing featuring marvelous rapport between Hooker and Odom but unfortunately the album, like much of the Bluesway catalog, has yet to be issued on CD. Big Moose Walker also made his full length debut for the label with Rambling Woman a fine outing marred by Otis Hale's electric sax but featuring superb playing from Hooker as evidenced on today's selection, "The Sky Is Crying." Rambling Woman has also never been issued on CD although some tracks appear on Simply The Best.

In late 1969, Hooker traveled to Europe to play in the American Folk Blues Festival. Four tracks from his October, 3rd appearance at the Royal Albert Hall have been issued. We wrap our show with "Going Up And Down" among the last songs ever recorded by Hooker. By this time, he was quite ill with advancing tuberculosis, a condition he battled his entire life, and after his return was admitted to a Chicago sanitarium where he passed away in April 21, 1970.

There were several tracks that had to be trimmed due to time limitations. I've included the omitted songs below.

The Hucklebuck [Sun, 1953] (MP3)

Square Dance Rock w/ Magic Sam [Chief, 1960] (MP3)

Rocking Wild [Chief, 1961] (MP3)

Bright Sounds [Age, 1962] (MP3)

That Man [Age, 1962] (MP3)

Off The Hook [Two Bugs And A Roach, 1968] (MP3)

The Moon Is Rising [Hooker And Steve, 1969] (MP3)

I Feel Good [Sweet Black Angel, 1969] (MP3)

If You Miss 'Im…I Got 'Im… [John Lee Hooker: If You Miss 'Im...I Got 'Im..., 1969] (MP3)

Drifting Blues [Charles Brown: Legend!, 1969] (MP3)

Jim Brewer LP

I'll Fly Away (MP3)

Libert Bill (MP3)

She Wants To Boogie (MP3)

Good Morning Blues (MP3)

Rocky Mountain (MP3)

St. Louis Blues (MP3)

Corrina (MP3)

Don't You Lie To Me (MP3)

Black, Brown And White (MP3)

It Hurts Me Too (MP3)

Shak-a-You-Boogie (MP3)

Crawlin' King Snake (MP3)

Key To The Highway (MP3)

Jim Brewer died twenty years, on June 3rd 1988, and unless you were a blues collector in the 1960's and 70's it's a safe bet that you may never have heard of this superb bluesman who was under recorded during his lifetime, and these days has just a handful of songs currently scattered on a few CD anthologies. Although he moved from Mississippi to Chicago in 1940, where he resided until his death, his guitar playing was still rooted in the Mississippi style he picked up as a youth. His repertoire as well was formed by the singers he heard, mostly on record or radio, in the 1940's and 50's; singers like Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red, Big Maceo and Peetie Wheatstraw who Brewer ran with in St. Louis for a spell. As he told Paul Oliver: "I went down to St. Louis, spent four or five years down there, woofin' and beefin' aroun' and blowin' my top as usually. An' I met a feller there down on Market and Main and places in East St. Louis, name of Peetie Wheatstraw. …I use to run aroun' with him quite a bit." Gospel music played a large part in Brewer's music and like many musicians of his generation he was torn for awhile between playing blues and playing gospel. Sometime in the late 1950's through the early 1960's he devoted himself almost entirely to gospel. It was in this context that Oliver first encountered him: "We first heard Blind James Brewer playing with a Gospel group which was holding service under the guidance of a fiercely exhorting 'jack-leg' preacher on the broken sidewalk of South Sangamon Street, Chicago, a short step from Brewer's home." Like many bluesman his allegiance to gospel wasn't steadfast as Oliver makes clear: "On another day we heard him with Blind Gray and recorded him playing I'm So Glad Good Whiskey's Back (Heritage HLP 1004)." Brewer was anything if not pragmatic: ""Well lots of people say, 'What profit you in the world if you gain the world and lose your soul?'-Well I realize that's true too. But you got to live down here just like you got to make preparations to go up there. …You got to live this life, and you got to obey God. And God give me this talent and he knew before I came into this world what I was goin' to make out of this talent." While playing on the streets of his hometown of Brookhaven, MS in the 1930’s he learned most of the religious songs that he continued to perform throughout his life. His father told him he could make more money playing blues and as he grew older he started performing at parties having learned his repertoire from records.

Jim Brewer
James Brewer, Photo by Paul Chen

By the mid-1950’s, after roaming around for a bit, he was back in Chicago where he married his wife Fannie. Brewer’s new mother-in-law bought him an electric guitar and amplifier. Returning to Maxwell Street, where he began performing in the early 1940's,  he devoted himself exclusively to religious music. In 1962, however, he was offered an opportunity to play blues at a concert at Northwestern University and also began a regular gig at the No Exit Cafe which lasted for two decades. He went on to play major festivals and clubs in the United States, Canada and Europe. He was recorded by Swedish Radio in 1964, cut sides for the Heritage label, was recoded by Pete Welding who issued the sides on his Testament label was well as Milestone and Storyville, plus cut the full-length albums Jim Brewer (Philo, 1974) and Tough Luck (Earwig, 1983). Brewer was also captured on film performing with his wife on Maxwell Street in 1964 for the documentary And This Is Free.

Jim Brewer - Tough Luck

Kansas City Blues (MP3)

Come Back Baby (MP3)

Rock Me Mama (MP3)

Goin' Away Baby (MP3)

Big Road (MP3)

Long Ways From Home (MP3)

Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad (MP3)

Hair Like A Horse's Mane (MP3)

Poor Kelly (MP3)

Mean Old 'Frisco (MP3)

Tough Luck Blues (MP3)

Oak Top Boogie (MP3)

Pea Vine Whistle (MP3)

Recorded less than a decade apart, Brewer's two full-length albums are marvelous examples of his artistry showcasing him playing solo acoustic on a program of mostly standards. Jim Brewer was recorded live at Kirkland College to an appreciative audience and Brewer seems at his best when working a crowd. Four cuts on Tough Luck were recorded live at the 9th annual Gambier Folk Festival in 1980 while the other numbers were cut in the studio in 1978 and 1982. I think the first album is the stronger of the two and really benefits from the fact that it captures a complete live performance complete with plenty of charming asides to the audience who seem captivated by Brewer's lively singing and guitar playing. Clas Ahlstrand summed up Brewer's guitar style succinctly in a 1967 Blues Unlimited article: "As a blues guitarist Jim Brewer must be considered one of the best in Chicago. His style is complex and filled with an easy, fluent rhythm. It is is definitely not 'Chicago styled, but softer and more 'Country.'" Indeed like his repertoire, which seems frozen in the 1940's and in the traditional songs he heard as a youngster, his guitar playing too seems firmly rooted in a Mississippi country style he learned as a youth. But as Ahlstrand points out, its appeal lies in Brewer's deep sense of rhythm which effortlessly rolls from his fingertips belying the complexity of his playing. This driving complexity is heard to fine effect in the good time numbers "She Wants To Boogie" and "Shak-a-You-Boogie" as well as a gorgeous version of the chestnut "St. Louis Blues" delivered with a seductive drive and sense of humor that invests this well worn tune with brand new sheen. The same can be said on a warmly sung version of "Corrina" and a powerful cover of "Crawlin' King Snake." Brewer plays only one gospel number on these albums, opening up his self titled album with a rousing, sanctified version of "I'll Fly Away" that lasts just over a minute before segueing into "Liberty Bill" which he announces by saying "Now I'm going to play some, some old, you know them way back down home blues." In addition to his guitar skills, Brewer possesses a  powerful yet easygoing voice, often drawing out his lines for dramatic effect.

Brewer's four live cuts from Tough Luck, are every bit as good as the previous album; Brewer is in commanding form on the stark, powerfully sung "Goin' Away Baby", a driving version of Tommy Johnson's timeless "Big Road" and employs a gentle voice and deft fingerpicking to "Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad." There's a reason certain songs have become standards and even though you may have heard "kansas City Blues" umpteen times, artists like Brewer are able to find the very essence of what makes this song so timeless, giving this classic a vivacious reading a feat he also performs on Arthur Crudup's "Mean Old 'Frisco." Brewer is a fine interpreter as he shows on terrific versions of Big Maceo's "Poor Kelley" and "Tough Luck Blues" and Walter Davis' "Come Back Baby", ably translated from piano to guitar. "Oak Top Boogie", a mostly instrumental with spoken asides, is a fine guitar boogie while "Hair Like A Horse's Mane" is a beautiful version of this standard and a song he clearly had an affection for, cutting it originally back in 1964.

Unfortunately Brewer's two LP's are long out of print and only a few of his songs appear on CD; a pair of songs on a couple of Earwig anthologies, his songs for Swedish Radio can be found on the CD I Blueskvarter Chicago 1964, Volume One and a few gospel numbers appear on And This Is Maxwell Street. Brewer remained an in demand musician until the end, and as long time supporter Andy Cohen wrote: "He died with gigs on his calendar."


« Previous PageNext Page »