1970’s Blues


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Van HuntLonesome Road BluesBlues At Home Vol. 1
Van HuntCorinna Corrina Blues At Home Vol. 1
Sweet Charlene Sitting Here Drinkin Blues At Home Vol. 1
Sam ChatmonGo Back Old DevilBlues At Home Vol. 2
Sam ChatmonProwling Ground HogBlues At Home Vol. 2
Sam ChatmonOpen Your BookBlues At Home Vol. 2
Sam ChatmonStoop Down Baby, Let Your Daddy SeeBlues At Home Vol. 2
Eugene Powell Poor Boy Blues (Take 1)Blues At Home Vol. 3
Eugene Powell Discusses His MusicBlues At Home Vol. 3
Eugene Powell Old Home BluesBlues At Home Vol. 3
Eugene Powell Blues At Home Vol. 3Blues At Home Vol. 3
Memphis Piano Red Baby Please Come Back To MeBlues At Home Vol. 4
Memphis Piano Red I Need Love So BadBlues At Home Vol. 4
Memphis Piano Red Barrelhouse Blues (Take 2)Blues At Home Vol. 4
Alonzo BurksTrain I RideBlues At Home Vol. 5
Carey TateDiscusses The Meaning Of The BluesBlues At Home Vol. 5
Carey TateBlues All In My Bread (Take 2)Blues At Home Vol. 5
Big Jack Johnson Catfish Blues (Take 1)Blues At Home Vol. 6
Pinetop JohnsonSee What You Done DoneBlues At Home Vol. 6
Pinetop JohnsonTommy Dorsey Boogie Woogie (Take 2)Blues At Home Vol. 6
Bukka WhiteBooker T.'s Doctor BluesBlues At Home Vol. 7
Bukka WhiteI'm Getting Ready, My Time Done ComeBlues At Home Vol. 7
Bukka WhiteThe Aberdeen Blues Blues At Home Vol. 7
Dewey Corey Dresser Drawer BluesBlues At Home Vol. 7
Dewey Corey Fishing In The DarkBlues At Home Vol. 7
Laura DukesLittle Laura's BluesBlues At Home Vol. 7
Laura DukesBricks In My PillowBlues At Home Vol. 7
Jack Owens Cherry Ball (Take 2)Blues At Home Vol. 8
Jack Owens The Devil (Take 2)Blues At Home Vol. 8
Charlie Sangster Moaning Blues Blues At Home Vol. 9
Charlie Sangster The Dirty Dozen (Take 2) Blues At Home Vol. 9
Charlie Sangster Selling That StuffBlues At Home Vol. 9

Show Notes:

Blues At Home Vol. 1As anyone who's listened to this program knows, I have a huge interest in field recordings devoting several shows to the topic and interviewing several of the men who made the recordings.  The 70's and early 80's were a good period for field recordings with men like George Mitchell, David Evans, Pete Lowry, Begnt Olsson, Axel Kunster and others (all who have been featured on past programs) making recordings throughout the south.

In the early 70's through the early 80's Gianni Marcucci made five trips to the United States from Italy to document blues with several albums worth of material issued in the the 1970's. I've corresponded with Gianni regarding those albums and he wrote that these releases were "an abuse and an offense to my effort (10 years of field research, and 13 years of re-mastering and text editing), as well as an insult to the memory of the featured artists" and that his overall experience was a "nightmare." Furthermore, he wrote, "my research has been misunderstood with the result that I received some insults and defamation, both in Europe and USA, on magazines and books." The Blues At Home series is his "peaceful reply" to those critics. The recordings heard on this series were kept in Gianni's private archive. "In order to preserve these materials I transferred to digital those I thought were best, and by 2013 [2015]  the 16-volume Blues At Home CD collection was ready for release." The material is currently available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Apple Music and CD Baby for digital download and streaming. There are plans to make these available as physical CD's as well.

"In 1972, Gianni wrote, "I worked with Lucio Maniscalchi. In 1976 Vincenzo Castella, assisted me and took the photographs. Lucio Maniscalchi  worked with me for 11 days (20-31 December 1972); Vincenzo Castella in July-August 1976. Both Maniscalchi and Castella were not interested in my research and documentary project. They left the project after the 2 field trips were done. They just randomly worked with me on those occasions. Their name was erroneously featured and emphasized on the" original LP's, "especially the name of Vincenzo Castella. I was the only responsible of the recordings, archiving, and LP edition (including, of course, all the typos, mistakes, etc.). In 1972 and 1976 Hammie Nixon helped finding some of the performers in Tennessee. In 1976 Mary Helen Looper and Jane Abraham helped in the Delta. …On December 1972, with the help of the Blues At Home Vol. 3legendary harmonica player Hammie Nixon, using a professional portable equipment, I had the chance to start recording blues in Memphis. The documentary research continued in July 1976, ending in July 1982. A series of informal sessions was held during the course of my five trips through Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana, featuring well known, but also little known, and unknown musicians."

On today's program we spotlight recordings from the first nine Blues At Home collections featuring the following artists: Van Hunt, Mose Vinson, Sam Chatmon, Eugene Powell, Memphis Piano Red, Big Jack Johnson, Pinetop Johnson, Carey Tate, Alonzo Burkes, Bukka White, Dewey Corley, Laura Dukes, Jack Owens and  Charlie Sangster.

The first volume of the Blues At Home Collection features singer Van Zula Carter Hunt. Around the late 1910's, she moved to Memphis and began her professional musical activity, traveling for several years with minstrel shows. She played with local blues artists such as Sleepy John Estes, Frank Stokes, Gus Cannon, and Memphis Minnie. In November 1930, she recorded “Selling The Jelly” (issued under the name of the Carolina Peanut Boys) in Memphis for Victor Records. She also recorded some gospel sides as a chorus member with Rev. E.D. Campbell for Victor in 1927. Hunt is backed on a number of tracks by pianist Mose Vinson ,who was also recorded solo, as well as Hunt's daughter Sweet Charlene.

The second volume is devoted to Sam Chatmon the brother Bo Chatmon (a.k.a. Bo Carter) who made numerous popular records in the '30s. Before World War II. the Chatmon brothers and their associate Walter Vincent founded the string band called The Mississippi Sheiks. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, Chatmon recorded for a variety of labels, as well as playing clubs and blues and folk festivals across America.In 1972 he cut the album The New Mississippi Sheiks, reuniting with Walter Vinson, cut the excellent The Mississippi Sheik for Blue Goose in the early 70's as well as albums for Rounder and Flying Fish among others. Chatmon passed in 1983.

The third volume focuses on Eugene Powell. Born in 1908 in Utica, Mississippi, he took up the guitar at the age of seven and soon developed a formidable technique that won him the respect of contemporaries such as Charley Patton, Bo Carter, and Sam Chatmon. In 1936 he recorded six sides which were released on the Bluebird label under the name of Sonny Boy Nelson, including the original version of “Pony Blues” of which we Blues At Home Vol. 6hear an updated version on today's program.

The fourth volume features an underrated and under recorded pianist John Williams (a.k.a. Memphis Piano Red). In 1930 he moved to Memphis where he started his musical activity, playing often in Beale Street bars. He never had the chance to record 78 rpm race records, and was discovered in the late '60s during blues revival times. These recordings stem from two long sessions held in 1972 and 1978 at his home in Memphis.

The fifth volume features the totally unknown Carey Tate from Henning, Tennessee, a very prolific area from which several outstanding blues artists came such as Noah Lewis, Charlie Pickett, Sleepy John Estes and John Henry Barbee. Tate was born in Henning, Tennessee, in 1905, and was discovered in the summer of 1976 in Humboldt, Tennessee, through the help of Hammie Nixon, and two sessions were recorded at Tate’s home there. Less than one year later, Tate was murdered under obscure circumstances and the recordings presented on this collection remain his last testament. This collection also includes six tracks by Alonzo Burks, another unknown artist discovered in Flora, Mississippi, in the summer of 1978, through referral of William “Do Boy” Diamond’s nephew Eugene.

The sixth volume features an underrated piano blues musician from the Delta, Wallace Bilbo Johnson (a.k.a. Pinetop Johnson). As Gianni writes, "he was discovered there in the late ‘60s by researcher Bill Ferris, who included the transcription of the entire 1969 session in his book Blues From the Delta. Wallace “Pinetop” Johnson was recorded during two relaxed sessions held in the summers of 1976 and 1978, the latter at a local piano supply store, the Gate Piano Company, on Issaquena Avenue in the heart of Clarksdale, where a piano in perfect condition had been made available for the occasion. This CD features his 1978 complete recording session in chronological order, plus some additional material cut in Clarksdale in 1978 by Earnest Roy, Big Jack Johnson, and Wade Walton."

The seventh volume features Bukka White, one of the major Mississippi bluesmen to be rediscovered during the blues revival of the '60s. Gianni writes "this CD features the complete relaxed session recorded at his private home in Memphis on December 22, 1972, in the stately presence of Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon. …Also 107featured on this CD is some unusual material by former jug band members Dewey Corley on piano and Laura Dukes on ukulele, recorded on the same day, December 22, 1972."

The eighth volume features Jack Owens. In 1978, 1980, and 1982, Gianni writes, "I had the chance to meet Owens at his home in Bentonia and to record, during several informal sessions, the material finally released on this CD, which mostly had remained unreleased for over 30 years."

The ninth volume introduces Charlie Sangster , a little known artist of Brownsville, Tennessee. Belonging to a musical family, he learned how to play mandolin and guitar at the age of 12. His father, Samuel Ellis Sangster, was a blues guitarist who used to play with Sleepy John Estes and Hambone Willie Newbern; his mother, Victoria, was a gospel singer. Charlie played at the fish market and in other social situations with a circle of local musicians, including Charlie Pickett, Brownsville Son Bonds, Hammie Nixon, Yank Rachel, Sleepy John Estes, and Walter Cooper. He also knew and performed with Hambone Willie Newbern during the last part of Newbern’s life. Sangster was recorded at eight sessions between 1976 and 1980.

 

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
B.B. King Gamblers' Blues Blues Is King
B.B. King I'm Gonna Do What They Do to Me Blues On Top of Blues
Charles Brown I Want To Go Home Legend!
Jimmy WitherspoonNo Rolling Blues The Blues Singer
Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry When I Was Drinkin'I Couldn't Believe My Eyes
John Lee Hooker Back Biters and SyndicatorsUrban Blues
John Lee Hooker I'm Bad Like Jesse JamesLive At Cafe Au Go-Go
Otis SpannNobody Knows Chicago Like I Do Down To Earth
George Harmonica Smith Help Me ...Of The Blues
Johnny YoungI Gotta Find My BabyI Can't Keep My Foot From Jumping
Roy BrownWoman Trouble Blues The Blues Are All Brown
Big Joe TurnerCherry Red Singing The Blues
T-Bone Walker I'm Gonna Stop This Nite Life Stormy Monday Blues
Jimmy RushingBad LoserLivin the Blues
Mel Brown Seven Forty-Seven Eighteen Pounds of Unclean Chitlins
Rev. Gatemouth Brown I Come To The Garden And I'm Going ThroughAfter Twenty-One Years
Big Joe Williams Franklin Street BluesDon't Your Plums Look Mellow Hanging On Your Tree
Homesick James Fayette County Blues Ain't Sick No More
L.C. Robinson House Cleanin' Blues House Cleanin' Blues
Earl Hooker End of the Blues Do You Remember The Great Earl Hooker
Andrew ''Big Voice'' Odom Take Me Back To East St Louis Farther On Down The Road
Jimmy Reed I'm Just Trying To Cop a Plea The New Jimmy Redd
Jimmy Reed I've Got To Keep on Rollin'Big Boss Man
Sunnyland Slim Mr. CoolPlay The Ragtime Blues
Lucille SpannCry Before I Go Cry Before I Go
Cousin JoeEvolutionCousin Joe Of New Orleans
Roosevelt Sykes Dirty Double Mother Dirty Double Mother

Show Notes:

[Shows notes are edited from part one which aired in 2010]

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.

 60394
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The label has been 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 catalog 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.

The New Jimmy Reed Album
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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 five albums for the label between 1966-1968; The New Jimmy Reed Album, Soulin', Big Boss Man, Down In Virginia and  I Ain't From Chicago. These are mostly solid outings, 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 three records for the label: Stormy Monday in 1967, Funky Town in 1968 and Dirty Mistreater in 1973. 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. The latter two 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.

Homesick James: Ain't Sick No More
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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.T-Bone Walker: Stormy Monday Blues

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."

L.C. Robinson: House Cleanin' Blues
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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.

 Rev. Gatemouth Moore: After Twenty-One Years
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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 finds 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. The sixties were slow for Roy Brown. There were a few sessions for fly-by-night labels like DRA and Connie and Mobile. Chess cut four sides on him in 1963, but never released them. He became a door-to-door salesman, easing himself into the homes of older blacks with autographed pictures of the former star that was him. "I sold a lot of encyclopedias that way, he recalled. Brown cut 1968's The Blues Are All Brown (reissued in 1973 as 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 went unissued. 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.

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Champion Jack DupreeReminiscin' With Champion JackChampion of the Blues
Champion Jack DupreeStoryville SpecialBoogie Woogie, Booze And Wild Women
Champion Jack DupreeDrive 'em Down SpecialTwo Fisted Piano From New Orleans: Blues Roots Vol. 8
Speckled RedI Had My FunBlues Masters 11: Speckled Red
Speckled RedFour O'Clock BluesBlues Masters 11: Speckled Red
Speckled RedEarly Morning Blues Blues Masters 11: Speckled Red
Lonnie Johnson & Otis SpannClementine BluesSwingin' with Lonnie: Blues Roots Vol. 5
Lonnie Johnson & Otis SpannSee See RiderSwingin' with Lonnie: Blues Roots Vol. 5
Sleepy John Estes with Hammie NixonDiving Duck BluesPortraits In Blues Vol. 10
John Henry BarbeeI Ain't Gonna Pick No More CottonI Ain't Gonna Pick No More Cotton
Sippie Wallace & Little Brother MontgomeryWoman Be WiseSippie Wallace Sings The Blues
Sippie Wallace & Little Brother MontgomeryI'm A Might Tight WomanSippie Wallace Sings The Blues
Big Joe WilliamsShake Them DownBig Joe Williams
Robert Pete WilliamsDoctor BluesRobert Pete Williams
Otis SpannT.B. BluesOtis Spann: I Have Had My Fun - Blues Roots Vol. 9
Otis SpannSpann's BoogieOtis Spann: I Have Had My Fun - Blues Roots Vol. 9
Big Bill BroonzyI Get The Blues When It RainsAn Evening With Big Bill Broonzy Vol. 2
Big Bill BroonzyBlack Brown And WhiteAn Evening With Big Bill Broonzy
Sunnyland SlimPrison Bound Blues Sunnyland Slim: Blues Roots Vol. 9
Roosevelt SykesThe Way I Feel Roosevelt Sykes: Portraits In Blues Vol. 11
Roosevelt SykesBoot That ThingRoosevelt Sykes: Portraits In Blues Vol. 11
Sonny Boy WilliamsonThe Sky Is CryingKeep It to Ourselves
Sonny Boy WilliamsonRebecca BluesPiano Blues
Little Brother MontgomeryI Must Get Mine In FrontDeep South Piano
Little Brother MontgomeryBob Martin BluesDeep South Piano
Sonny Terry with Brownie McGhee I'm Afraid Of FireWizard Of The Harmonica
Brownie McGhee My Last SuitThe Best Of Brownie McGhee
Memphis Slim This Is A Good Time To Write A Song Memphis Slim: Blues Roots Vol. 10

Show Notes:

Big Bill BroonzyOn today's program we spotlight a great batch of recordings from the Storyville label based in Copenhagen. Storyville managed to corral  many of the great blues performers who made their way to Europe staring in the latter end of the 1950's and which increased as the American Folk Blues Festival brought many more to European shores throughout the 1960's. I have always been impressed with the quality of the albums Storyville issued. Artists like Champion Jack Dupree, Memphis Slim and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, for example, recorded prolifically for many labels often churning out less than inspired recordings in their later years but Storyville had a knack for eliciting great performances from even the most jaded artists and the fact is that the Storyville albums maintain a consistently high level of quality. In addition to the original recordings, Storyville also released albums of recordings by Harry Oster and Pete Welding.

The year was 1950 when a group of jazz enthusiasts/record collectors often met at the home of Karl Emil Knudsen. Among those present were Heinrich Breiling and the young clarinet phenomenon Henrik Johansen. The label was launched in Copenhagen in 1952 with Knudsen eventually taking over full responsibility of the label. Storyville originally sold imported American records but when American jazz artists began to tour in Europe and Scandinavia Knudsen seized every opportunity to record them for the label. The label's first releases were 78 rpm reissues featuring Ma Rainey, Clarence Williams Blue Five, and James P. Johnson, but Storyville soon began releasing original recordings. Looking back on the period of 1956 to 1964, and to a lesser extant into the early 70's, Storyville’s recorded quite a bit of blues. The first great blues singer to arrive in Copenhagen was Big Bill Broonzy in 1956 and recorded by the label. Many blues artists toured Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival, which originally ran for a decade between 1962 and the early 70's. Storyville recorded the artists in the wee hours after they had played the evening concert. The label recorded many of the bluesmen who settled down and lived and performed in Europe including Memphis Slim, Champion Jack Dupree and Eddie Boyd. The label seemed to have a special affinity for piano players, cutting several albums by Champion Jack Dupree plus sessions by Speckled Red, Little Brother Montgomery, Memphis Slim, Roosevelt Sykes, Sunnyland Slim and Eddie Boyd. Others who recorded for the label include Robert Pete Williams, Big Joe Williams, Lonnie Johnson, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Sonny Boy Williamson and others. A good chunk of the material has been made its way to CD including the 7-CD set, The Blues Box. The Storyville discography can be a bit confusing as the label repackaged, and re-titled their albums through the years.

Champion Jack DupreeAs mentioned previously, there's a wealth of great piano blues recorded by the label.  Champion Jack Dupree moved to Europe in 1959, first settling in Switzerland and then Denmark, England, Sweden and, finally, Germany. He record prolifically for Storyville, British Decca, Blue Horizon, Sonet and others. Dupree moved to Europe in 1959, first settling in Switzerland and then Denmark, England, Sweden and, finally, Germany. He record prolifically for Storyville, British Decca, Blue Horizon, Sonet and others. Dupree cut 45's, EP's and several albums for Storyville including Champion of the Blues, The Best Of The Blues, Portraits in Blues Vol. 5, The Blues Of Champion Jack Dupree and several others.

Speckled Red first recorded in 1929, cutting his classic "The Dirty Dozens" among others. He did another session in 1930 and a final one in 1938. Charlie O'Brien, a St. Louis policeman and something of a blues aficionado had tracked down old bluesmen during the 1950s, including Speckled Red on December 14, 1954, who subsequently was signed to Delmark Records as their first blues artist. In 1960 he was booked to tour Europe. On June he toured Scandinavia where he recorded for Storyville.

Little Brother Montgomery saw his career pick up in the 1960's and he became a world traveler, visiting the UK and Europe on several occasions during the 1960's, cutting several albums there, while remaining based in Chicago. He cut one of his best latter day albums in 1972 for Storyville titled Deep South Piano. Montgomery can also be heard playing behind Sippie Wallace on the Storyville album Sippie Wallace Sings The Blues recorded in 1966 when when she was touring with the American Folk Blues.

Other piano players who recorded for Storyville were Otis Spann, Roosevelt Sykes, Memphis Slim, Sunnyland Slim and Eddie Boyd. Roosevelt Sykes was recorded for Storyville while on tour for the 1964 American Folk Blues Festival. Memphis Slim first appeared outside the United States in 1960, touring with Willie Dixon, with whom he returned to Europe in 1962 as a featured artist in the first of the series of American Folk Festival concerts. in 1962. That same year, he moved permanently to Paris where he secured his position as one of the most prominent blues artists for nearly three decades. He recorded the album Traveling With The Blues for Storyville in 1960 plus some other scattered sides for the label. Otis Spann recorded an album for the label as well as backing Lonnie Johnson on a fantastic session. Both men were on tour for the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival at the time.

Sonny Boy Williamson: Portrait In Blues Vol. 4Big Bill Broonzy was the first blues singer to be recorded by Storyville. In 1951, Broonzy took his first tour of Europe, where he was met with enthusiasm and appreciation. His appearances in Europe introduced the blues to European audiences and were especially influential in London’s emerging skiffle and rock blues scene. Broonzy’s success also set the stage for later blues artists such as Sonny Boy Williamson II and Muddy Waters to play European venues. Broonzy toured Europe again in 1955, 1956 and 1957. Broonzy was recorded live at Club Montmartre in Copenhagen and these recordings were issued on Storyville as An Evening With Big Bill Broonzy Vol. 1 & 2.

Other blues singers recorded for the label include Sonny Boy Williamson II, Big Joe Williams, John Henry Barbee, Sleepy John Estes & Hammie Nixon, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and Robert Pete Williams. Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon were recorded for Storyville while both were on tour for the 1964 American Folk Blues Festival while  Big Joe and Robert Pete Williams were recorded for Storyville while both were on tour for the 1972 Festival. Both Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry cut excellent albums in the early 70's for Storyville each accompanying each other. Sonny Boy Williamson first traveled to Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival in 1963 and joined the Festival again in 1964. He recorded a wonderful session for Storyville in 1963 backed by Matt Murphy, Memphis Slim and Billie Stepney.

John Henry Barbee cut an exceptional album for the label and has a fascinating but tragic story. Barbee recorded recorded for Vocalion in the early fall of 1938 where he made the trip to Chicago and recorded four titles. His initial record sold well enough to cause Vocalion to call on Barbee again, but by that time he had left his last known whereabouts in Arkansas. Barbee returned to the blues scene during the midst of the blues revival. His earliest sides are from 1963 recorded at the Chicago club the Fickle Pickle. n 1964 he joined the American Folk Blues Festival and was recorded several times that year: songs by him appear on a pair of albums on the Spivey label, several tracks were recorded while in Europe as well as a an excellent full-length album for Storyville issued as Portraits in Blues Vol. 9. and appears on John Henry Barbee & Sleepy John Estes: Blues Live. In a case of tragic circumstances, Barbee returned to the United States and used the money from the tour to purchase his first automobile. Only ten days after purchasing the car, he accidentally ran over and killed a man. He was locked up in a Chicago jail, and died there of a heart attack a few days later, November 3, 1964, 11 days before his 59th birthday.

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Michael SpörkeInterview
Big Mama ThorntonCotton Picking BluesThe Complete 1950 1961
Big Mama ThorntonI Smell A RatHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonRock-A-Bye BabyHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonYes, BabyHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonHound DogHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonMy StoryThe Complete 1950 1961
Big Mama ThorntonStop Hoppin' On MeHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama ThorntonThey Call Me Big MamaThe Complete 1950 1961
Big Mama ThorntonOne More River Saved
Big Mama ThorntonBig Mama's Coming HomeThe Complete 1950-1961
Big Mama ThorntonLife Goes OnAll Night Long They Played The Blues
Big Mama ThorntonBall N' Chain Ball And Chain
Big Mama ThorntonLittle Red RoosterLive In Europe
Big Mama ThorntonMy Heavy Load Ball And Chain
Big Mama ThorntonSession BluesIn Europe
Big Mama ThorntonI'm Feeling Alright With The Muddy Waters Blues Band)
Big Mama ThorntonLooking The World OverIn Europe
Big Mama ThorntonEverybody's Happy But MeSassy Mama!
Big Mama ThorntonJailJail
Big Mama ThorntonThat Lucky Old SunLive At Ann Arbor 1970
Big Mama Thornton Unlucky GirlBall And Chain
Big Mama ThorntonRock MeGunsmoke Blues

Show Notes:

Big Mama ThorntonWillie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton is probably best remembered for two songs that became huge for Elvis and later Janis Joplin. "Hound Dog" held down the top slot on Billboard's R&B charts for seven weeks in 1953 and Elvis had an even bigger hit with it in 1956. Joplin covered "Ball and Chain" on her debut album which became a million seller. Thornton moved to Houston where she signed with Don Robey's cutting some terrific sides but no hits to match "Hound Dog." After Houston she settled in California where she cut a few singles and struggled playing small club dates. After new management she began to play festivals including the American Folk Blues Festival and cut some fine albums for Arhoolie. She cutting records for Mercury and Vanguard through the 70's and touring up until her death in 1984. Today we feature Big Mama's music and hear my interview with Michael Spörke who has written the biography Big Mama Thornton: The Life and Music.

As Spörke writes: "Willie Mae moved in the house of relatives in Barbour County Alabama, and found herself a job washing and cleaning spittoons in the local tavern. One night the tavern's regular;r vocalist go drunk so Willie Mae convinced the tavern owner that she could do the job. She never looked back after that." As she related to writer Ralph Gleason: "I like my own old down home singing, with the feeling.I learned to sing blues by myself. …My singing comes from experience, my own feeling. I got my own feeling for everything. I never had no one teach me nothing. I never went to school for music or nothing. I stayed home to take care of my mother who was sick. I taught myself to sing and to blow harmonica and even to play the drums by watching other people. I can't read music but I know where I'm singing! If I hear a blues I like, I try to sing it in my own way. It's always best to have something of your own. I don't sing like nobody but myself." Her big break came through singer Diamond Teeth Mary who met Willie Mae when she was working on a garbage truck and  happened to hear her singing. Mary told her about a singing contest for Sammy Greens Hot Harlem Revue. At fourteen years old, she won the contest and began traveling with the Revue.

Thornton’s career began to take off when she moved to Houston in 1948.She made her debut in 1950 cutting "All Right Baby b/w Bad Luck Got My Man" for the tiny E&W label on Houston's Dallas Avenue. She signed a a five year recording contract with Don Robey's Peacock Records in 1951. Thornton played at Robey's Bronze Peacock club and toured the Big Mama Thornton AdChitlin' Circuit. Thornton cut some solid records before "Hound Dog", such as "Cotton picking Blues" and  "Let Your Tears Fall Baby" but nothing hit the charts. Robey negotiated a deal with Johnny Otis in which he would take some of Robey's artists on tour with the revue and that he would also record them. Sh was apparently a big hits as the Chicago Defender proclaimed that Thornton "stopped the show in the Tacoma, Oakland and Richmond auditoriums, as well as in Stockton, Sacramento, Bakersfield and the Elks Auditorium in Los Angeles." While on tour with Otis she cut "Hound Dog." The son was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller especially for Thornton. Otis brought Leiber and Stoller  to see her to see if they could come up with something for her. As Stoller recalled:  "we saw Big mama and she knocked me cold. she looked like the biggest, bad-ass, saltiest chick you would ever see. And she was mean, a 'lady bear' as they used to call 'em. She must have been 350 pounds and she had all these scars all over her face. I had to write a song for her that basically said 'Go fuck yourself' but how do you do it without actually saying it? ..She was a wonderful blues singer with a great moaning style, but it was as much her appearance as her blues style that influenced the writing of Hound Dog." The song went to number one on the R&B charts and was the biggest record Peacock ever had.

Unable to follow the success of  "Hound Dog" she left peacock in 1957 and relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, playing clubs in San Francisco and L.A. but not recording again until 1961. In 1961 she waxed 45's for Irma and Bay Tone. During the latter session she cut "Ball and Chain" but was not released. Her fortunes took an upswing with new manager Jimmy Moore and "the big festivals and shows came back into Big Mama Thornton's life…" Her first big festival shows the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival which she would play again in 1966 and 1968. In 1965, she toured with the American Folk Blues Festival package in Europe. As Spörke writes: "Big Mama was always put on at the end of each show. She was the highlight." During the festival she got the chance to record an album for Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie label. Big Mama In Europe featured an all-star backing band that included Buddy guy, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Walter Horton, Eddie Boyd and others.

Back in the States after her European tour she cut a few singles for Sotoplay, Kent and the terrific "Life Goes On" for Galaxy. In 1966 she cut her second album for Arhoolie, Big Mama Thornton Vol. 2: The Queen at Monterey with the Chicago Blues Band. The album found her backed by a crack Muddy Waters band that included James Cotton, Sammy Lawhorn and Otis Spann among others. 1968 saw the release of the album Ball and Chain on Arhoolie.

While the black audience was turning away from the blues there was a growing appreciation for blues and roots music among white audiences that would benefit Thornton greatly. Between 1966 and 1969 she was in great demand in campuses, clubs, folk festivals and rock festivals. She played in places like the Fillmore and the Ash Grove, sharing the stage with rock bands like the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane. It was during this period she met Janis Joplin and members of Big Brother & the Holding Company. It was at a club that they heard her perform "Ball and Chain." As Joplin  said " she sings the blues with such heart and soul. I have learned so much from her and only wish I could sing as well as Willie Mae." Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company's performance of "Ball 'n' Chain" at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and release of the song on their number one album Cheap Thrills renewed interest in Thornton's career and was the song that made Joplin famous.

Big Mama Thornton at the 1965 American Folk Blues Festival

 

By 1969, she signed with Mercury Records. Mercury released her most successful album, Stronger Than Dirt, which reached number 198 in the Billboard Top 200 record chart. Thornton then signed a contract with Pentagram cutting a gospel album called Saved. Thornton's last albums were Jail and Sassy Mama for Vanguard Records in 1975. Thornton never stopped touring until her passing in 1984, including a return to Europe on 1972. As Spörke writes: "The newspapers, for the most part, wrote that she was found dead, alone in a boarding house, but her friends say  that this is not the truth. It seems more realistic that she had gathered together her old buddies one last time on July 25, 1984. Around six in the evening, rumor has it, she phoned her sister Mattie. She sang for her, her favorite song, 'That Lucky Old Sun.' Then she went to the sofa, drank some gin and milk, fell to sleep and never got up." As Johnny Otis said at her funeral: "Don't waste your sorrow on Big Mama. She's free. Don't fell sorry for Big mama. There's no more pain. No more suffering in a society where the color of skin was more important than the quality of your talent."

 

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