Chicago Blues

Elmore JamesIt Hurts Me TooVee-Jay: The Definitive Collection
Elmore JamesThe Twelve Year Old BoyKing Of The Slide Guitar
Elmore JamesComing Home King Of The Slide Guitar
Junior WellsTwo Headed Woman Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
G. DavyDid You Ever Love SomeoneBest Of Chief Records
Junior Wells Come On In This HouseMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Junior Wells Little By Little Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Lillian OffittWill My Man Be Home Tonight Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Lillian OffittOh MamaBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Junior WellsCalling All Blues Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Junior WellsMessing With The KidMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Elmore JamesKnocking At Your DoorKing Of The Slide Guitar
Earl HookerBlues In D NaturalBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Junior WellsI'm A StrangerMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Magic SamEvery Night About This Time Magic Sam: With a Feeling -The Cobra, Chief & Crash Recordings
Junior WellsSo TiredMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Junior WellsYou Sure Look Good To Me Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Earl HookerRockin' WildBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Junior Wellst Hurts Me Messin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Magic SamYou Don't Have To WorkMagic Sam: With a Feeling -The Cobra, Chief & Crash Recordings
Earl HookerThis Little Voice Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Ricky AllenRemember The Time Remember The Time
Ricky AllenYou'd Better Be SureRemember The Time
Earl HookerBlue Guitar Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Earl Hooker Swear To Tell The Truth Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Junior WellsPrison Bars All Around MeMessin' With The Kid - 1957-1963
Elmore JamesCry For Me BabyKing Of The Slide Guitar
Ricky AllenOuch! Remember The Time
Ricky AllenCut You A-Loose Remember The Time
Earl Hooker That Man Blue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Jackie Brenston & Earl HookerWant You to Rock MeBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963
Earl Hooker The Leading BrandBlue Guitar: The Chief, Age, U.S.A. Sessions 1960-1963

Show Notes:

Mel London (left) & Ricky Allen (right)

Melvin R. London was born in Mississippi on April 9, 1932. His initial interest in music led him to write R&B material, and he rapidly set up his own Melva Music  publishing firm. He began operations for Chief Records in 1957. In march of that year, twenty-five year old London was noted in the rhythm & blues trade press, which said "United Distrib's Mel London turned into a triple threat man with Chief's 'Man from The Island.' London penned the Calypso number, published it, and owns the label, not to mention he's the distributor's promotion man, too." They somehow failed to mention that he was the performer on the song as well. London set up Chief's offices at 1510W. Thirteenth St. in Chicago in April of 1957. Chief Records (together with its Profile and Age subsidiaries) was an independent record label that operated from 1957 to 1964. London served as producer and wrote several of the label's best-known songs.

In 1959 Earl Hooker teamed up with Junior Wells and producer Mel London. 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." According to A.c. Reed "Hooker met London when I was on the road with Dennis Binder and 'em, because when I come back, he was already associated with Mel London and he got me into recordin' with Mel London. It was a studio band 'cause we's about the best musicians he had to record behind peoples. Everybody played on everybody's record. Anybody that would record, we'd play on it."

As Danchin wrote: "Earl didn't have a one-way relationship with London; his superlative guitar contributions played their role in the development of London's business, but at the same time it was through London that Hooker was able to bequeath future generations a testimony to his highly creative genius, in the form of blues classics like "Blue Guitar", "Blues in D Natural", "Little By Little", "Messin' With The Kid",  and "Will My Man Be Home Tonight."

In 1957, Junior Wells hooked up with producer Mel London, who owned the Chief and Profile logos. Wells was one of London's favorite blues artists. Wells hooked up with Earl Hooker after his last label,United/States, folded in 1957 and after his previous guitarist, Syl Johnson had left. The association resulted in many of Wells' most enduring sides, including "I Could Cry" and the rock & rolling "Lovey Dovey Lovely One" in 1957, the grinding national R&B hit "Little by Little" (with Willie Dixon providing vocal harmony) in 1959, and the R&B-laced classic "Messin' with the Kid" in 1960 (sporting Earl Hooker's immaculate guitar work). Wells' harp was de-emphasized during this period on record in favor of his animated vocals.“Little By Little' became a national hit, peaking at #23 on the R&B Billboard charts. The flip, “Come On In This House” also became a hit, played extensively on black radio stations in Chicago. Wells would continue to perform and record several of his Chief and Profile songs ("Messin' with the Kid," "Come on in This House," and "It Hurts Me Too") during his career.

Billboard Jan 23, 1961 Ad

1960-1961 was a high water point for the collaboration between Hooker and Wells with the two waxing some impressive material including "Calling All Blues", "Messin' With The Kid", "I'm A Stranger and "The Things I'd For You" among others. "Cut You Loose," another London composition, was a hit for Ricky Allen; the song reached #20 in 1963. Next to Wells, Allen had the most singles on the label (all on Age). A native of Nashville, Ricky Allen was influenced by Earl Gaines and Larry Birdsong before relocating to Chicago in 1960. There, he promptly became a part of Earl Hooker's musical circle, joining him on the roster of Mel London's Age imprint. Allen's local popularity was reflected in frequent visits to the recording studio – he cut over forty titles for labels including Age, USA, 4 Brothers, and Bright Star. Allen cut several local and national hits like "You Better Be Sure", "Ouch!" and "Cut You A Loose" which hit #20 on the R&B charts and #126 on the pop charts. After disbanding his band in the early 70's he drifted off into blues obscurity.

Chief was plagued by financial problems. First to be discontinued were the Chief and Profile labels; finally the Age label was discontinued in 1964 and the company went out of business. During its seven years of operation, Chief/Profile/Age released about eighty singles (including reissues) from approximately thirty-seven artists. Later, various singles (including reissues) by Chief artists would be released by All-Points Records, Mel/Mel-Lon Records, Bright Star Records, and Starville Records, but none had the impact of the originals.

By 1963 London had a role with the U.S.A. label, possibly as a producer. by the end of the decade he was working a s shipping clerk for United Record Distributors. Neil Slaven noted that London "most of the time drove a delivery truck. He was by no means bitter about this situation and retained fond memories of the artists he'd recorded and the record he'd made." In the early 70's London had some plans to reissue his earlier material but no longer had the original masters. London said in a 1973 interview: "hell, I never though there'd be a call for that stuff." London died of cancer in May 1975 at the age of forty-three.

The Chief label boasted a catalog of forty-one singles, the last one being reissues of items released at an earlier stage. Chief was an eclectic label that included efforts by pop and rockabilly artists, yet its best selling issues-with the exception of a minor rock 'n' roll hit by Tobin Matthews-were blues numbers featuring Earl Hooker's inventive playing. The liking that  that London took to Hooker's playing soon prompted him to use him as his "house" guitarist, using his band every time he set up and R&B session. However he never trusted Hooker's singing, never once issuing a vocal by him. Advertised in Cash Box from April 14, 1962, "Blue Guitar", was a record sold usually well for an instrumental blues side. Before the Spring was over, every band in the Chicago blues belt included the song in their repertoire. The song was then used as the instrumental backing to Muddy Waters' "You Shook Me."

To record, Mel London used Chicago's finest studio, Universal Recording. As Big Moose Walker noted "Somethin' like twenty years ago, that was the best studio in the city. …I'd say like nine or ten o'clock at night, we'd be done through by twelve, it depend on on how many we'd be cuttin'.  …Sometimes we go in there, I would do somethin' like one, and then maybe RickyAllen would do one, and maybe he might have junior Wells doin' one."

London was also running the Profile label at the same time which also folded around the same time. Chief was aimed at the R&B market while Profile aimed more towards pop. That same year London formed his Age label. The Age label issued twenty-five singles through 1964 by Ricky Allen, Earl Hooker and A.C. Reed among others while Profile issued fifteen singles.

London recorded five titles at his initial session with Elmore James. "Knocking At Your Door" was not released at the time because London had nothing to pair it with. Elmore was called back to the studio by London in the Fall, cutting "Cry For Me Baby" b/w "Take Me where You Go"featuring Syl Johnson on lead guitar. The number were released in December and reissued almost immediately on Vee-Jay. All in all, James cut seven sides for chief. James was among the first signed to the label, entering the studio in April, 1957. “The Twelve Year Old Boy” and “Coming Home” were the first songs recorded. These songs were paired for issue as Chief's second release. The single was distributed by bigger independent, Vee-Jay who also reissued the single on its own label. The next release was 'It Hurts Me Too” which Elmore had cut twice before and was originally recorded by Tampa Red in 1941.

Lillian Offit made her debut cutting a handful of sides for Excello in 1957 and 1958. By 1959 she was in Chicago where she teamed up with Earl Hooker. The group went in the studio in February 1959. “Will My Man Be Home Tonight” became one of Chief's best sellers and a local hit in Chicago. The group recorded again in May of the same year.

Other blues artists who cut sides for London included Magic Sam who cut eight sides for Chief across three sessions in 1960 and 1961, G. "Davy" Crockett and Hooker associates A.C. Reed, Big Moose Walker and Jackie Brenston of "Rocket 88" fame who fronts Hooker's band Want "You To Rock Me" b/w "Down In My Heart.".

Big Bill BroonzyI Can't Be SatisfiedBig Bill Broonzy: All The Classic 1928-1937
Big Bill BroonzyBig Bill Blues (These Blues Are Doggin' Me)Big Bill Broonzy: All The Classic 1928-1937
Big Bill BroonzyPig Meat Strut (with Famous Hokum Boys)Big Bill Broonzy: All The Classic 1928-1937
Big Bill BroonzyJust a Dream (On My Mind)Big Bill Broonzy: Part 2 1937-40
Big Bill BroonzyYou Got To Hit the Right LickBig Bill Broonzy: Part 2 1937-40
Big Bill BroonzyRambling BillBig Bill Broonzy: The War & Postwar Years 1940-1951
Big Bill BroonzySerenade BluesBig Bill Broonzy: The War & Postwar Years 1940-1951
Big Bill BroonzyBaby I Done Got WiseBig Bill Broonzy: Part 2 1937-40
Big Bill BroonzySaturday Evening BluesBig Bill Broonzy: The War & Postwar Years 1940-1951
Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGheeKey To The HighwayBlues
Big Bill BroonzyGoing Down the Road Feeling BadAmsterdam Live Concerts 1953
Roger House Interview
Big Bill BroonzyLong Tall Mama Big Bill Broonzy: All The Classic 1928-1937
Big Bill BroonzyToo Too TrainBig Bill Broonzy: All The Classic 1928-1937
Big Bill Broonzy Starvation Blues Big Bill Broonzy: All The Classic 1928-1937
Big Bill BroonzyHungry Man BluesBig Bill Broonzy: All The Classic 1928-1937
Big Bill BroonzyMade a Date With an AngelBig Bill Broonzy: Part 2 1937-40
Big Bill BroonzyGood Liquor Gonna Carry Me DownBig Bill Broonzy: All The Classic 1928-1937
Big Bill BroonzyW.P.A RagBig Bill Broonzy: Part 2 1937-40
Big Bill BroonzyGoing Back to Arkansas Big Bill Broonzy: Part 2 1937-40
Big Bill BroonzyUnemployment Stomp Big Bill Broonzy: Part 2 1937-40
Big Bill BroonzyGet Back (Black, Brown and White)His Story
Big Bill BroonzyWhen Will I Be Called A ManTrouble In Mind
Big Bill BroonzyJoe Turner Blues No. 2Trouble In Mind
Big Bill BroonzyPlough-Hand BluesTrouble In Mind

Show Notes:

Today's program is inspired by a new biography of Big Bill Broonzy called Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy. Today we spin a cross section of Broonzy sides from the 30's through the 50's and we'll also be speaking with the author, Roger House. Surprisingly this is the first biography of Broonzy although Broonzy himself wrote an autobiography with Yannick Bruynoghe called Big Bill's Blues which came out in 1955. Next year will see the release of another biography, I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy by Bob Riesman. In Blue Smoke, House puts Broonzy's life in a broader context, not only telling Broonzy's life story but using it as a way to tell a much larger story; a history of black America in the first half of the 20th Century, from sharecropping to the Great Migration. A good chunk of today's set list was selected by the author with a few favorites thrown in by myself. Most of today's show notes are take from the book and related press materials.

As author Roger house wrote: "Between 1927 and 1957, he released 997 sides of songs, stories, and music. In these works, Broonzy introduced social topics with a cast of characters from the world of ordinary folk. He spoke about sharecroppers, mule drivers, train conductors, prostitutes, barmen, policemen, shopkeepers, soldiers, and lovers in the changing locales of the plantations, towns, railroads, and ghettos. His recordings explored the themes of farming, poverty, unemployment, migration, gambling, drinking, and dancing. As a result, his recordings constituted a valuable resource for recovering the lost voice of an observer of a generation.

This book presents Bill Broonzy as both an important blues artist and an archetype of the working-class black man. It places what was known about his life in the context of the transformation of African American life that took place over a seventy-year period of economic and social change that constituted an "Age of Blues." The lack of information about Broonzy's life has made telling his story a challenge—much of what is known about him came from Broonzy himself. A key source of my information was his often frustratingly whimsical autobiography, Big Bill Blues. Other sources included press reports, written accounts, oral testimony, films, and photographs. Constructing Broonzy's story required peering through the haze of facts, statements, pictures, and songs to construct a larger mosaic of his life. I chose the title Blue Smoke to emphasize the challenge of telling the obscure story of an urban migrant. Yet, despite the gaps in the account, the portrait Broonzy rendered of his life and times provides one of the more substantial bodies of information left behind by a prewar blues singer.

From the 1956 film Low Light, Blue Smoke

Most of all, I sifted through the oral/aural statements captured on Broonzy's voluminous body of recorded music. Between 1927 and 1957, he released 997 sides of songs, stories, and music. In these works, Broonzy introduced social topics with a cast of characters from the world of ordinary folk. He spoke about sharecroppers, mule drivers, train conductors, prostitutes, barmen, policemen, shopkeepers, soldiers, and lovers in the changing locales of the plantations, towns, railroads, and ghettos. His recordings explored the themes of farming, poverty, unemployment, migration, gambling, drinking, and dancing. As a result, his recordings constituted a valuable resource for recovering the lost voice of an observer of a generation. My approach to Broonzy's blues songs follows that of the cultural historian Angela Davis, who argues that blues lyrics and themes "constitute a patchwork social history of black Americans during the decades following emancipation."

Broonzy was born into a family of twenty-one children and reared by sharecropper parents in Mississippi. He moved to Arkansas to work as a sharecropper, preacher, and fiddle player, but the army drafted him during World War I. After his service abroad, Broonzy, chose to move North to seek new opportunities. After learning to play the guitar, he performed at neighborhood parties in Chicago and in 1927 attracted the attention of Paramount Records, which released his first single, "House Rent Stomp," backed by "Big Bill's Blues." In the early '30s he waxed some brilliant blues and hokum, and worked Chicago and the road with great players like pianist Black Bob, guitarist Will Weldon, and Memphis Minnie. During the Depression years, Big Bill Broonzy continued full-steam ahead, waxing sides or Paramount, Bluebird, Columbia and Okeh. In addition to solo efforts he was an in demand session guitarists appearing on dozen of records including those by Bumble Bee Slim, John Lee (Sonny Boy) Williamson, Washboard Sam, Memphis Slim, Merline Johnson, Lil Green as well as playing various  studio bands like the State Street Boys, Famous Hokum Boys and the Chicago Black Swans.

Big Bill Broonzy Performs "Hey Hey"

In 1938, Broonzy was at Carnegie Hall (filling in for the fallen Robert Johnson) for John Hammond's revolutionary Spirituals to Swing concert. After that he spent a good part of the early ’40s barnstorming the South with Lil Green’s road show or back in Chicago with Memphis Slim. He continued alternating stints in Chicago and New York with coast-to-coast road work until 1951. 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 and 1957. Back in the States he recorded for Chess, Columbia and Folkways, working with a spectrum of artists from Blind John Davis to Pete Seeger. In 1955, Big Bill Blues, his life as told to Danish writer Yannick Bruynoghe, was published. In 1957, after one more British tour, the pace began to catch up with Broonzy. He spent the last year of his life in and out of hospitals and succumbed to cancer in 1958.

-Listen to the Roger House/Big Bill Broonzy interview (edited, MP3, 59 min)

Big Maceo Worried Life Blues Big Maceo Vol. 1 (1941-1945)
Big Maceo Ramblin’ Blues Big Maceo Vol. 1 (1941-1945)
Big Maceo County Jail Blues Big Maceo Vol. 1 (1941-1945)
Tampa Red She's Love Crazy Tampa Red Vol. 12 (1941-1945)
Tampa Red Let Me Play With Your Poodle Tampa Red Vol. 12 (1941-1945)
Tampa Red She Want to Sell My Monkey Tampa Red Vol. 12 (1941-1945)
Big Maceo Tuff Luck Blues Big Maceo Vol. 1 (1941-1945)
Big Maceo I Got The Blues Big Maceo Vol. 1 (1941-1945)
Big Maceo Poor Kelly Blues Big Maceo Vol. 1 (1941-1945)
Tampa Red Better Leave My Gal Alone Tampa Red Vol. 13 (1945-1947)
Tampa Red Mercy Mama Tampa Red Vol. 12 (1941-1945)
Big Maceo I'm So Worried Big Maceo Vol. 1 (1941-1945)
Big Maceo Kid Man Blues Big Maceo Vol. 1 (1941-1945)
Big Maceo Macy Special (Flying Boogie) Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
John & Grace Brim Strange Man Blues John Brim 1950-1953
John & Grace Brim Mean Man BluesJohn Brim 1950-1953
Big Maceo Come On Home Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Big Maceo Texas Stomp Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Big Maceo Detroit Jump Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Big Bill Broonzy Cell No. 13 Blues Big Bill Broonzy Vol. 12 (1945-1947)
Jazz Gillum Look On Yonder Wall Jazz Gillum Vol. 4 (1946-1949)
Sonny Boy Williamson Early In The Morning The Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 2
Big Maceo Winter Time Blues Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Big Maceo Won't Be A Fool No More Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Big Maceo Chicago Breakdown Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Eddie Boyd Blue Monday Blues Eddie Boyd 1947-1950
Eddie Boyd Chicago Is Just That Way Eddie Boyd 1947-1950
Big Maceo Maceo's 32-20 Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Big Maceo Broke And Hungry Blues Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Big Maceo Do You Remember Big Maceo Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Little Johnny Jones Early In The Morning Tampa Red Vol. 14 (1949-1951)
Little Johnny Jones Worried Life BluesLive in Chicago with Billy Boy Arnold

Show Notes:

Blues writer Chris Smith wrote the following about Big Maceo: “On both slow blues and boogies, Big Maceo played powerful, sometimes challengingly chromatic bass figures and anvil-sparkling right-hand flourishes and solos. He could be a jovial singer, but more typical were husky, plaintive, fatalistic accounts of trouble with women and the law.  …His playing and Tampa Red’s amplified guitar foreshadow the sound of postwar Chicago.” Maceo had a profound influence on postwar Chicago piano despite a relativley sparse discography; his short career spanned the years 1941 through 1950, where he recorded just over three dozen sides as well as backing partner Tampa Red on eighteen sides and providing session work behind Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jazz Gillum and John & Grace Brim. On today's program we spotlight Maceo's finest sides plus his superlative session work behind some of Chicago's biggest stars as well as spinning tracks by Eddie Boyd and Little Johnnie Jones, two men who worked and were influenced by Maceo.

Big Maceo

It's worth quoting Mike Rowe in full who wrote in his seminal book, named after one of  Maceo's most celebrated numbers, Chicago Breakdown (later retitled Chicago Blues): “Unlike other pianists, he did not let his musical knowledge impair his blues feeling; he played nothing but the blues. He would have been referred to slightingly by Blind John Davis as one of the 'double-time guys' for his thunderous piano style, which sounded as though the whole 245 lbs of his frame was transmitted directly through his finger- tips, so powerful was the sound of hammered treble figures over a rock-steady eight-to-the-bar bass. The directness and energy of his piano playing, with little light or shade, contrasted perfectly with his singing, his smoky-brown voice investing the songs with a depth unequaled by most of his contemporaries. His songs were mostly his own, frequently 16-bars. with always interesting lyrics. Texas Blues, County Jail Blues and the beautiful Poor Kelly Blues were fine songs but he is best remembered for the superb and much recorded Worried Life Blues, his first record. It borrowed the verse from Sleepy John Estes' Someday, Baby but the rest of it was Maceo's. … Sometimes he used traditional themes, like Big Road Blues or his version of 44 Blues (an almost mandatory piece for a pianist), which was titled Maceo's 32-20. Even Maceo's music, heavy and unrelenting from his first session in June 1941, increased in power in the early postwar years, when he recorded the romping and very exciting Kid Man Blues, instrumentals with vocal comments like Texas Stomp and Detroit Jump, fine blues like Winter Time Blues, and the ultimate in his piano art, the classic Chicago Breakdown, a boogie-woogie solo of enormous power and drive. Sadly this 1945 recording was the last that Maceo made at the height of his powers; he was paralyzed from a stroke in mid-1946, and, though he recovered, never again did he play with the same authority. Big Maceo's place in the development of the Chicago piano blues is vitally important; taking over from the late Josh Altheimer, his influence can be traced through his successors, Little Johnnie Jones, Henry Gray and Otis Spann. ”

Hattie Spruel was an ambitious woman and first met Maceo when she hired him to play for parties in her home. They were soon married and Hattie went to work to make a name for her new husband. The couple moved to Chicago in 1941, where she made the acquaintance of prominent guitarists Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red. She introduced them to Maceo and the two were impressed with his skills. They brought him to the attention of RCA's  producer, Lester Melrose, and within just a few weeks Maceo was recording for the famed Bluebird label.The first session would prove to be extremely fruitful for Merriweather. He recorded a total of 14 sides, with the first single becoming the most important of his career: "Worried Life Blues". At the conclusion of the war, Melrose immediately brought his stable of blues artists back to the studio. Maceo resumed his work with Tampa Red.

During these years, Maceo moved back to Detroit, but made frequent return trips to Chicago where he would perform with both Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy on the city's South Side. Through the 1940's Tampa remained a prime seller among black audiences with hits like “Let Me Play With Your Poodle” and “She Wants To Sell My Monkey.” During his Bluebird stint, between 1934 and 1953, he recorded over 200 sides. Big Maceo teamed up with him for for a while, and after Maceo suffered a stroke, Sunnyland Slim filled in until Maceo’s protege  Johnnie Jones took over on piano. Maceo backs Tampa on the above numbers as well as many memorable one like "She's Love Crazy", ""Mercy Mama" and "Better Leave My Gal Alone" among others.

Outside of his own recordings and those backing Tampa Red, Maceo backed Big Bill Broonzy, Jazz Gillum and Sonny Boy Williamson on notable sessions. Maceo backed Broonzy on back-to-back sessions in February 1945. Twelve sides were cut with several unissued, he backed Jazz Gillum on a six song session the following year, including playing on the original version of “Look On Yonder Wall” and backed Sonny Boy Williamson in October 1945 on a four song session with Tampa Red.

Unfortunately, Big Maceo's career was cut short after he suffered a stroke in 1946 that left him almost completely paralyzed on his right side. Over the next few years, he would attempt to record several more times despite his handicap, and still remained a fine singer. Occasionally other pianists would play while he sang, and other pursuits found him sharing the keyboards with a second performer working the right side of the piano for him. Among the artists who filled this role would be Eddie Boyd in 1947 for sides done for Victor and Johnny Jones in 1949 for Specialty. Another pianist to occupy this spot would be Otis Spann, who idolized Big Maceo. He would also sometimes fill in for the elder musician for gigs whenever Maceo was unable to perform. Big Maceo retired from playing in 1949 following yet another stroke. Poor health and a lifetime of heavy drinking eventually led to a fatal heart attack. He died on February 23, 1953 in Chicago. His body was returned to his home in Detroit for burial five days later.

Maceo's protege Johnny Jones blew into the windy city from Mississippi in 1946 and already new his way around the 88’s. He was first influenced by Big Maceo and followed him into Tampa Red’s group in 1947 after Maceo was stricken by a stroke. As mentioned above he even helped play right hand for the elder man on a few tunes. Jones played piano behind Tampa for RCA Victor between 1949-1953. In addition to his piano duties he also helped out vocally even singing lead on Tampa's 1951 version of "Early in the Morning" which we spotlight on today's program. Jones also played the clubs with Tampa often working at the Peacock and C&T clubs. Jones later came to prominence backing Elmore James through the 50’s as well as cutting a handful of fine sides under his own name. Luckily Jones was captured at length just before his death. He was caught on tape in 1963 where he was working with Billy Boy Arnold in a Chicago folk club called the Fickle Pickle run by Michael Bloomfield. Norman Dayron recorded Johnny on portable equipment which has been released on the Alligator record titled Johnny Jones with Billy Boy Arnold. From that recording we close our show with Jones delivering a superb rendition of Maceo's "Worried Life Blues." Sadly Jones died from lung cancer in 1964, shortly after his fortieth birthday.

Little Johnnie Jones

John Brim picked up his early guitar licks from the 78s of Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy before venturing first to Indianapolis in 1941 and Chicago four years later. He met his wife Grace in 1947; fortuitously, she was a capable drummer who played on several of his records. In fact, she was the vocalist on a 1950 single for Detroit-based Fortune Records that signaled the beginning of his recording career. Those numbers "Strange Man b/w Mean Man Blues" are featured today and sport the piano of Big Maceo. One other track from this session was unreleased.

Eddie Boyd migrated up to Memphis where he began to play the piano and 1n 1941, Boyd settled in made it to Chicago. In Chicago fell in with the Bluebird label and producer Lester Melrose. He backed harp legend Sonny Boy Williamson on his 1945 classic "Elevator Woman," also accompanying Bluebird stars Jazz Gillum, Tampa Red and Big Maceo on a four-song 1947 date when Maceo was unable to play piano due to a stroke. Melrose produced Boyd's own 1947 recording debut for RCA as well; the pianist stayed with Victor through 1949.

Bll Samuels Jockey BluesMercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Sippie Wallace Bedroom Blues Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Albert Ammons Swanee River Boogie Albert Ammons: Alt. Takes, Radio Perfs & Uniss. Home Recordings
T-Bone Walker Come Back To Me Baby Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
T-Bone Walker She Is Going To Ruin Me Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson Cleanhead Blues Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson Kidney Stew Blues Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson Somebody’s Got To Go Long Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Jay McShann & Jimmy Witherspoon Shipyard Woman Blues Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Jay McShann & Jimmy Witherspoon Roll On Katy Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Jay McShann & Crown Prince Waterford Crown Prince Boogie Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Dinah Washington Mean And Evil Blues Complete Dinah Washington On Mercury Vol. 1
Dinah Washington Joy JuiceMercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Jay McShann & Jimmy Witherspoon Ernestine Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Walter BrownW.B. Blues Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Julia Lee Dream LuckyMercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Helen Humes Jet Propelled Papa Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Myra TaylorI'm In My Sins This Morning Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Dinah Washington Record Ban BluesComplete Dinah Washington On Mercury Vol. 1
Dinah Washington Walkin' And Talkin'Complete Dinah Washington On Mercury Vol. 1
Dinah Washington Early In The Morning Complete Dinah Washington On Mercury Vol. 1
Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson Railroad Porter's Blues Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson Old Maid Boogie Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson Oil Man Blues Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Big Bill Broonzy Water Coast Blues Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Big Bill Broonzy I Love My Whiskey Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Sunnyland Slim Everytime I Get To Drinkin'Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Sunnyland Slim Mud Kickin' Woman Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
St. Louis JimmyShame On You Baby Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Smiley TurnerWhen A Man Has The Blues Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955
Eddie Mack & Cootie WilliamsMercenary Papa Eddie Mack 1947-1952
Vivian Greene Bowlegged Boogie Mercury Blues & Rhythm Story 1945-1955

Show Notes:

From the booklet to The Mercury Blues 'N' Rhythm Story 1945-1955: "No other record label to come our of Chicago has ever had as many hit records, or become such a major power in the recording industry, as Mercury Records. Mercury covered a broad musical base, encompassing blues, pop, jazz, country, polka and gospel (and, in the years to follow, rhythm & blues, rock 'n' roll, doo-wop, soul, funk, and other genres). Housed in small offices in the famed Jeweller's Building on 35 East Wacker Drive, it was the first record label based in Chicago. (The famed Chess label was formed in late 1947 as Aristocrat Records. Vee-Jay, Chicago's other bygone independent, started in 1953.) Mercury ranks among the all-time top four in the number of hist to reach Billboard magazine's R&B charts, far ahead of its Windy City peers.

…"It's just The Blues," by Willie Dixon's Four Jumps Of Jive, was the company's debut release. Forming the Mercury Radio and Television Corporation were Berle Adams, Chicago agent-manager for the General Amusement Corp., and Irving Green of Olsen and Tilger Manufacturing Co., Inc. …'The big thing about Mercury was: we were an economy company,' Adams recently recalled with great enthusiasm. 'We had no money. The other companies were well financed. we couldn't compete with the big boys, so we chose R&B and country & western. You didn't need arrangers, copyists, big orchestras. It was easier to finance that kind of operation. I had come out of the cocktail lounge business in Chicago, I used the talent that I had worked with previously.'

The October 13, 1945 issue of Billboard reported: 'Chicago's potential as a recording center got a big shot in the arm with the announcement this week by Irving Green, local plastics expert, that he is a heading a new firm, Mercury Records, which will eventually reach 250,000 disks per month… Thus far the new label has inked only Negro artists, with its catalog including sides by June Richmond, ex-andy Kirk rythm singer; Bill Samuels and His Cats 'n' Jammers, and the Four Jumps of Jive, both cocktail units; Sippie Wallace and Karl Jones, blues shouters; Al Ammons, boogie pianist and half the team of Ammons and Johnson, and Bob Shaffner And His Harlem Hot Shots."

In early 1946 Mercury inaugurated their race series and would soon produce an impressive body of blues and R&B recordings which would make them rivals to Atlantic during the late 40's and 50's. As writer Jim O'Neal points out "today's listenership might be easily mislead because of the preponderance of Delta-based Chicago blues recordings from this period selected for reissue by collector's labels, but in truth a large portion of the blues records coming out of Chicago in the Forties and Fifties were decidedly more urbane, owing more to jazz and jump than to jukes and John the Conqueror roots. …In this field the most prolific of all the Chicago labels was Mercury,which released some 300 records in its 'Race' series from 1946 to 1952, in addition to several released in 1945-46 before the catalog was subdivided into different series." This style is reflected in part one of our look at the label as we focus on the years 1945 to 1949, spotlighting several tracks by the label's big R&B stars Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson and Dinah Washington, plus big names like T-Bone Walker, Albert Ammons, Big Bill Broonzy, Sippie Wallace, Professor Longhair and Jay McShann and his great singers Walter Brown and Jimmy Witherspoon. We'll also hear great lesser knowns like Myra Taylor, Little Joe Gaines, Smiley Turner and Vivianne Greene among among others. Below is some background on today's artists.

Dinah Washington was far and away the label's star attraction as Jim O'Neal explains: "On one hand, Mercury's policy descriptions certainly left the doors open for Chess and other labels to corner what might be called the "hard blues" market; on the other, Mercury eclipsed them all by virtue of one artist with a smooth, sophisticated approach- Dinah Washington. Washington had more Billboard chart hits (45, from 1948 to 1961) than the combined total Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Elmore James, and Sonny Boy Williamson had during their entire careers."

Alongside Washington, Eddie Vinson was one of the most prolifically recorded artists for Mercury in it fledgling years, waxing around three dozen sides for the label through 1954. Vinson first picked up a horn while attending high school in Houston during the late '30s. Vinson picked up a few vocal tricks while on tour with bluesman Big Bill Broonzy and joined the Cootie Williams Orchestra from 1942 to 1945. His vocals on trumpeter Williams' renditions of "Cherry Red" and "Somebody's Got to Go" were big hits. Vinson struck out on his own in 1945, forming his own large band, signing with Mercury, and enjoying a double-sided smash in 1947 with his romping R&B chart-topper "Old Maid Boogie" and the song that would prove his signature number, "Kidney Stew Blues."

One of the very first acts signed to the newly founded Mercury label in 1945 was a quartet calling itself the Cats 'N Jammer Three. Their pianist and lead vocalist was Mississippi native and Chicago-based entertainer Bill Samuels. The first of two versions of "I Cover the Waterfront" was terrifically successful for the Jammers and for Mercury. The Cats 'N Jammer Three seem to have disbanded during the 1948 recording ban. Samuels waxed only a couple of sides in 1949, then moved to Minneapolis where he managed to form a trio, eventually recording an LP and one last single. He passed away in March of 1964 at the age of 53

Sippie Wallace, who recorded prolifically in the 20’s but hadn’t recorded since 1929, came out of retirement briefly to cut four sides for Mercury in 1945. During the early 1920's she toured the TOBA vaudeville circuit where she was billed as "The Texas Nightingale". In 1923 she followed her brothers to Chicago and began performing in the cafes and cabarets around town. In 1923 she recorded her first records for Okeh and went on to record over forty songs for them between 1923 and 1929. As Jim O'Neal notes "…the Mercury venture also marked one of the few times that any of the great classic women blues singers of the Twenties were given a chance to record during the Forties (or Fifties)."

In 1929 T-Bone Walker recorded two singles for Columbia Records, "Trinity River Blues" and "Witchita Falls Blues," as Oak Cliff T-Bone (Walker lived in the Dallas suburb of Oak Cliff). He continued playing with a 16-piece band formed during his school days with Lawson Brooks until 1934, when he quit and moved to Los Angeles. Walker made his living on the West Coast playing with various small combos in the thriving jazz clubs of Los Angeles. In 1939 he joined Les Hite’s Cotton Club Orchestra as a singer, guitarist, and composer. "I was out there four or five years on my own before they all started playing amplified," Walker stated. "I recorded my T-Bone Blues’ with Les Hite in 1939, but I’d been playing amplified guitar a long time before that." Throughout the 40's he recorded prolifically for mainly for Black & White and Capitol but cut a couple of fine sides for Mercury in 1945, two of which we spotlight today.

Jay McShann was a mostly self-taught as a pianist, worked with Don Byas  as early as 1931 and played throughout the Midwest before settling in Kansas City in 1936. McShann formed his own sextet the following year and by 1939 had his own big band. In 1940 the full orchestra recorded for Decca on two occasions during 1941-1942 but they were typecast as a blues band and did not get to record many of their more challenging charts. In addition to Charlie Parker, the main stars were trumpeter Bernard Anderson, the rhythm section, and singer Walter Brown. McShann and his band arrived in New York in February 1942 and made a strong impression, but World War II made it difficult for any new orchestras to catch on. There was a final session in December 1943 without Parker, but McShann was soon drafted and the band broke up. After being discharged later in 1944, McShann briefly re-formed his group but soon moved to Los Angeles, where he led combos for the next few years; his main attraction was the young singer Jimmy Witherspoon. McShann and Witherspoon cut three sessions for Mercury in 1946 and 1947. McShann also employed a couple of other fine singers that recorded for Mercury, including Walter Brown and Crown Prince Waterford.

A popular entertainer who recorded frequently for Capitol during 1944-1950, Julia Lee's double-entendre songs and rocking piano made her a major attraction in Kansas City. In 1944, she started recording for Capitol. After 1952, Julia Lee only recorded four further songs, but she was active up until her death in 1958. Her lone session for Mercury was a four-song session in 1945.

As a child, Helen Humes played piano and organ in church, and made her first recordings (ten blues songs in 1927 with guitarist Sylvester Weaver) when she was only 13 and 14. In the 1930's, she worked with Stuff Smith and Al Sears, recording with Harry James in 1937-1938. In 1938, Humes joined Count Basie's Orchestra for three years. Humes moved to Los Angeles. She began to record as a leader in the early to mid 40's and waxed three sessions for Mercury in 1947 and 1948.

Although a Chicago label, Mercury left the market for "hard" blues mainly for labels like Aristocrat (soon to be Chess), and a bit later for a slew of small independents like Hy-Tone, J.O.B., Parkway, Tempo-Tone, Chance, United among several others. During our time span the label did cut some of these artists including veteran Big Bill Broonzy and Sunnyland Slim. As Big Bill Broonzy & His Fat Four, Broonzy cut nine sides for Mercury at two in 1949, two sessions in 1951 backed by a fine band that included Memphis Slim and a final session for the label backed just by bassist Ernest “Big” Crawford. Broonzy sides, backed by sax, piano and drums, have a decidedly more sophisticated, up-to-date air as heard on "I Love My Whiskey", and "Water Coast Blues." More sides by Broonzy will be featured in part two. Sunnyland Slim cut two sides for Mercury in 1949 and a four-song session for the label in 1951 all backed by Robert Lockwood. Sunnyland too employed a fine sax play, Alex Atkins, and is in prime orm on "Everytime I Get To Drinkin' ", a song he would cut many times, and "Mud Kickin' Woman."

Vivian Greene was based was a vocalist/pianist based out of California some tw0-dozen sides between 1947 and 1955 for several different label. She cut four sides for Mercury in 1948. There was something of a trend circa the mid to late 40's of piano pounding boogie woogie blues ladies, most based around the Los Angles area. In addition to Green there was Nellie Lutcher, Camille Howard, Betty Hall Jones,  Hadda Brooks, Effie Smith among others.

Scrapper BlackwellBlues Before SunriseMr. Scrapper's Blues
Scrapper BlackwellLittle Boy BlueMr. Scrapper's Blues
Shirley GriffithSaturday BluesSaturday Blues
Shirley GriffithMaggie Campbell BluesSaturday Blues
J.T. Adams & Shirley GriffithBlind Lemon's BluesIndiana Ave. Blues
J.T. Adams & Shirley GriffithNaptown BoogieIndiana Ave. Blues
Brooks Berry & Scrapper BlackwellBama BoundMy Heart Struck Sorrow
Pete FranklinI Got To Find My BabyGuitar Pete's Blues
Neal PatmanKey To The HighwayArt of Field Recording: Vol I
Cecil BarfieldGeorgia Bottleneck BluesArt of Field Recording: Vol I
Art Rosenbaum Interview
Yank Rachel & Shirley GriffithPeach Orchard MamaArt of Field Recording: Vol. I
Scrapper BlackwellNobody Knows When Your Down...Mr. Scrapper's Blues
Shirley GriffithRiver Line BluesSaturday Blues
J.T. Adams & Shirley GriffithBig Road BluesIndianapolis Jump
Brooks Berry & Scrapper BlackwellBrook's BluesArt of Field Recording: Vol. I
Tony BryantBroke Down EngineArt of Field Recording: Vol. II
J. Easley, P. Franklin and Ray HollowayBig Leg WomanIndianapolis Jump

Show Notes:

Mission statement released after
United had been in existence for one year

The United Record Company was launched in July 1951, by Leonard Allen and Lew Simpkins, a veteran record man who had worked for the Miracle and Premium Records and brought many of their former artists to the new label. A news item in the trade press dated July 21, 1951, announces the formation of the United Recording Company. "The guiding force behind this new company is a Chicago area entertainment entrepreneur by the name of Lewis Simpkins. He had previous experience with the local Miracle and Premium labels in the Chicago areas. Simpkins is unique because he is one of the very few Black record company owners producing this music that is largely by and for the Black community. He joins the Rene Brothers in California (Excelsior and Exclusive) and soon to be executives Vivian Carter and James Bracken in nearby Gary Indiana with the Vee-Jay label."

United enjoyed early success, scoring hits by Tab Smith, Jimmy Forrest, and the Four Blazes; during its first year it was outdoing its local rival Chess on the charts. The United label took off impressively, scoring two number one R&B hits among its first ten releases: Tab Smith's "Because of You," and Jimmy Forrest's "Night Train." United formally opened for business with a long recording session on July 12, 1951. The company was able to expand and open a new imprint called States in May 1952. United and States recorded a substantial roster of jazz artists. The company also recorded a substantial amount of blues including artists like Roosevelt Sykes, Memphis Slim, J. T. Brown, "Big" Walter Horton, J. T. Brown, Robert Nighthawk, Junior Wells and others. The label also recorded a fair bit of gospel and vocal harmony groups.During its first 2 1/2 years of operation, the company recorded 463 masters. The death of Lew Simpkins, who died suddenly on April 27, 1953, was a serious blow; Leonard Allen was left to run the enterprise with limited help until the label's demise in 1957. While the company remained fairly healthy during 1954, activity dropped off sharply after that. Of the 281 sides that the company cut during this period, 130 were done in 1954. By the end of 1956 Leonard Allen was reduced to selling off half of the house music publishing company to pay his tax bill. Too many years without hits finally brought United and States down after the company's Christmas releases in 1957. Bob Koester of Delmark Records acquired most of the label's masters in 1975 and has reissued the bulk of this material on LP and CD. I want to thank the folks at Delmark for sending me several titles that made this show possible. Below is some background on some of today's featured artists, most of which comes from the The Red Saunders Research Foundation website.

Roosevelt Sykes, like Nighthawk, was recorded on United’s first day of sessions on July 12, 1951. He cut two additional sessions in August 1951 and March 1953. There is speculation that Nighthawk plays guitar on the first Sykes session. Robert Nighthawk was recorded by United on their very first day of sessions and two of United's first five releases were by Robert Nighthawk and his Nighthawks Band. Sales never took off and Nighthawk headed back south and wouldn't record again until 1964. Leonard Allen scoffed: "Robert Nighthawk? I didn't think nothin' of him. I didn't go into those joints where they were playing. Lew knew him- he had Robert Nighthawk in mind for the first session. So after he cut the session it did nothin'." Nighthawk recorded two sessions for United, one on July 12, 1951 and one on October 25, 1952 for its subsidiary States. His complete recordings for the label are collected on the CD Bricks in My Pillow.

Memphis Slim cut around 30 sides for United at sessions in 1952, 1953 and two in 1954. This was a particularly inspired period for Slim who added his first permanent guitarist, Matt Murphy to his band. These recordings have been reissued on the Delmark CD’s Memphis Slim U.S.A. and The Come Back. Memphis Slim had been recording since 1940. Based in Chicago during this phase of his career, he had been a mainstay at three postwar independents: first Hy-Tone, then Miracle, and finally Miracle's successor entity Premium. After Premium collapsed in the summer of 1951, Slim cut three sessions for Mercury in Chicago. Lew Simpkins, who knew Slim from the days when he was moving 78's for Miracle and Premium, brought him to United as soon as he could.

J.T. Brown also recorded during United's first day – and his "Windy City Boogie" was credited by United proprietor Leonard Allen with "saving our first money." J.T. is best remembered for the accompaniments he provided for Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Roosevelt Sykes, Johnny Shines, and J.B. Lenoir. In his liner notes for the United reissues on Delmark, Jim O'Neal remarked that he "was a bluesman. By jazz standards, he was not a great instrumentalist. His lack of sophistication, subtlety, and tonal variations prevented him from moving into more 'progressive' circles." Brown first performed as a member of the Rabbit Foot Minstrels in the South before moving to Chicago in the early 1940's.

One of the top R&B records of 1952, "Mary Jo" provided a moment in the national spotlight for one of Chicago's hottest vocal combos, The Four Blazes. The single moved rapidly to the top, displacing Lloyd Price's "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" as the #1 R&B song in the nation at the end of August. Bassist Tommy Braden was the main lead singer while all members provided backup harmony vocals. "Jelly" Holt was the founder and drummer in the group, while Floyd McDaniel and "Shorty" Hill played guitars. The Four Blazes formed in 1940 and made their recording debut with a few sides for Aristocrat in 1947 before landing at United in 1952.

In what was likely a response to Chess' success with Little Walter, United signed harp ace Junior Wells. After a youthful apprenticeship in the Aces and then the Muddy Waters band (when Little Walter went out on his own he took over the Aces, while Junior moved into his chair in Muddy's band, and appeared on one of Muddy's sessions for Chess), he was ready to make his first sides as a leader for the States subsidiary.  Down Beat's Pete Welding wrote "In their power, directness, unerring taste and utter consistency of mood, these may well be the most perfectly distilled examples of Wells' music ever recorded, taking their place alongside of those of Waters, Walter, Wolf and other masters of the period." These historic sessions also feature Louis and Dave Myers, Willie Dixon, Johnnie Jones, Fred Below and Odie Payne Jr. Recorded by United Records in 1953 and 1954 at Universal Studio in Chicago, eight sides were issued on the subsidiary States label.

Walter Horton moved to Chicago in the late 1940's, but during 1951-54 made frequent trips to Memphis to record for Modern, behind other artists and under the name Mumbles. He also made sideman appearances for Chicago-based labels, with Muddy Waters for Chess (January 1953) and Johnny Shines for JOB (the same month). He recorded under the name Big Walter Horton for the first time when he signed with United in 1954. Horton also backed singer Tommy Brown the same year. Brown's United session on August 26 featured an all-star lineup of Walter Horton (harmonica), Harold Ashby (tenor sax), Memphis Slim (piano), Lee Cooper (guitar), and Willie Dixon (bass); the drums are unknown. Brown remains an active performer.

Leonard Allen  recorded blues artists Morris Pejoe and Big Boy Spires in Al Smith's basement (5313 South Drexel). Although the Pejoe session was interesting enough to justify putting matrix numbers on it, Allen eventually backpedaled, most likely because of the less-than-professional sound quality. Neither saw release until Delmarkr put them out on an album in 1989. Pejoe was born Morris Pejas in Louisiana, and began his music career on the violin. After moving to Beaumont, Texas, in 1949, he switched to guitar. In 1951 he was in Chicago, performing with pianist Henry Gray. During 1952-53 he recorded three sessions for Checker, accompanied by Gray among others. The United session was held in December 1954.

Arthur "Big Boy" Spires was born in Natchez, Mississippi; he started playing guitar only in the late 1930s. Spires came to Chicago in 1943, and played house-rent parties during the decade. It was not until 1950 or 1951 that he graduated to nightclubs. He first recorded for Checker in 1952 (which produced his best known record, "Murmur Low"), and did a strong session for Chance in January 1953. In December 1953, Big Boy Spires and His Rhythm Rocking Three was advertised as the feature act in the grand opening celebration of the Palace Inn (the ad failed to list an address). The date of the Spires session for Leonard Allen seems to be December 1954 or shortly thereafter.

The most down-home blues session ever recorded by Leonard Allen featured harmonica player Alfred "Blues King" Harris and drummer James Bannister. Bannister got the vocals on "Blues and Trouble" and "Gold Digger," which were the only titles to be released from the session at the time; States 141 is a very rare record. Harris sang on the rest, which did not see issue until they appeared on a Delmark LP many years later. Bannister had made unissued recordings for Sun in Memphis and for Chess before cutting this session for States. Harris, who could sing in the B. B. King manner and often billed himself as Blues King, made one track for Modern in Memphis. He was booked into the Be-Bop Club for 6 months in 1954 when Allen recorded him. He waxed five sides for United that same year. In the late 1950's, Harris put out a single on J. Mayo Williams' low-circulation Ebony label. He dropped off the Chicago scene after 1959 and his later movements are untraced.

Other performers featured today include Jimmy Coe, Eddie Chamblee, Arbee Stidham, L.C. McKinley and Ernie K-Doe among others. United recorded several fine sax players who's music straddled the line between R&B and jazz. Many are featured on Delmark's three volume Honkers & Bar Walkers series including Jimmy Coe and Eddie Chamblee. From 1941 to 1946 Chamblee worked as a musician in Army bands; after his discharge he put together his own combo. His first notable work was on the Miracle label, particularly on the huge hit "Long Gone" by Sonny Thompson, which recorded for 1947. After Chamblee went out on his own in 1948, his records for Miracle and Premium sold well, and Lew Simpkins no doubt remembered him. In addition to putting out sides under his own name he also played on many sides backing the Four Blazes. On our selection, "La! La! La! Lady", Chamblee also takes the vocal. Arbee Stidham was the last blues artist to record for Leonard Allen, and was responsible for the very last release on States. He came to Chicago in the 1940s and his first recording for RCA Victor in 1947 produced a number one R&B hit on the Billboard race chart, "My Heart Belongs To You." Subsequently he cut sides for Victor, Checker, Sittin' With and Abco before signing with States in 1957. Only rone record was issued featuring the guitar of Earl Hooker. L. C. McKinley was T-Bone Walker disciple who made from Mississippi to Chicago in 1951. In the early 1950's he was a regular headliner at the famed 708 Club. In 1951 and 1952, he recorded as a sideman with pianist Eddie Boyd for JOB, appearing on Boyd's biggest hit, "Five Long Years." He first recorded as a leader in 1953 for the Parrot label, but Al Benson chose not to release his session. McKinley signed with States around the beginning of 1954 and cut four sides for the label. In 1955 United became the first to record Ernie K-Doe, who was living and performing in Chicago at the time under his real name, Ernest Kador. K-Doe spent nearly his entire life in New Orleans, but in 1953, after winning several singing and dancing competitions back home, he came to Chicago for a brief time to live with his mother. He met the Four Blazes at the Crown Propeller Lounge; the Blazes introduced him to A&R man Dave Clark, who was doing some work for United at the time and supervised the session. In early November he was singing at the Apex Country Club in Robbins, Illinois (13624 Claire Blvd) as "Ernest Kado." The Chicago Defender ad (12 November) was already billing him as "United Recording Artist."


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