Sun 8 Nov 2015
|Juke Boy Bonner||B.U. Blues||Things Ain't Right|
|Juke Boy Bonner||Where I Live||Things Ain't Right|
|Juke Boy Bonner||Call Me Juke Boy||Goin' Down To Louisiana|
|Joe Dean||Mexico Bound Blues||Down In Black Bottom|
|Joe Dean||I'm So Glad I'm Twenty-One Years Old Today||Shake Your Wicked Knees|
|Dr. Hepcat||Hattie Green||Lyons Avenue Jive|
|Sparks Brothers||Louisiana Bound||Sparks Brothers 1932-1935|
|Sparks Brothers||Tell Her About Me||Sparks Brothers 1932-1935|
|Juke boy Bonner||Yakin' in My Plans||45, Blues Unlimited 101|
|Juke boy Bonner||Runnin' Shoes||45, Blues Unlimited 101|
|Big Maceo||Wintertime Blues||Big Maceo with Tampa Red|
|Big Maceo||Kid Man Blues||Big Maceo Vol. 1 1941-1945|
|Big Maceo||Detroit Jump||Big Maceo Vol. 2 1945-1950|
|Big Maceo||Chicago Breakdown||Big Maceo Vol. 2 1945-1950|
|Louise Johnson||By The Moon And Stars||Juke Joint Saturday Night|
|Louise Johnson||On The Wall||Juke Joint Saturday Night|
|The Four Blazes w/ Red Holloway||Women, Women||Mary Jo|
|Sunnyland Slim||w/ Red Holloway||Sunnyland Slim 1952-1955|
As Bill Greensmith writes in the introduction to Blues Unlimited: Essential Interviews from the Original Blues Magazine: "Bexhill-on-Sea is a sleepy seaside town in East Sussex on the south coast of England., seemingly populated by old ladies and retired servicemen. …It was unquestionably the most unlikely of locations for the birthplace of Blues Unlimited, the world's first publication devoted solely to the blues. …Bexhill was home to both Simon Napier and Mike Leadbitter, Blues Unlimited's founding editors. …In April 1963, six months after the first AFBF [American Folk Blues Festival] toured Europe, the first issue of Blues Unlimited was published." The magazine was an outgrowth of The Journal of the Blues Appreciation Society formed in May 1962. The first issue was a success, selling out all 180 copies. By issue thirteen the run was up to one thousand and photos included for the first time. Greensmith wrote: "Researchers, discographers, and enthusiasts from Europe and the United States soon began to freely contribute articles, interviews, reviews, and information. …The early BU's managed to covey a wonderful sense of adventure; the enthusiasm was palpable. The early '60's saw the rediscovery of several artists who had recorded in the '20's and '30's, and Blues Unlimited was among the first to report the findings. …From today's vantage point it is sometimes easy to forget the time and context which BU began operating. Few blues artists had ever been the subject of an article or formal interview before appearing in BU. The magazine hit issue one hundred in 1973 and three issues later Simon Nappier stepped down with Mike Leadbetter taking sole ownership. Sadly, in November the next year Leadbitter died of meningitis at the age of 32. BU forged ahead with a five-person editorial committee talking over including Bill Greensmith. BU soldiered on until 1987 with a final double issue, 148/149.
I got into blues seriously when I was around sixteen and picked up my first Blues Unlimited right before the magazine went under. The magazine was a revelation and I even remember where I first picked it up – it was at tiny store called See Hear in the East Village that specialized in strange zines and other publications. Over the years I managed to pick up some of the back issues. The articles and reviews that appeared in the lengthy run of Blues Unlimited are a treasure of information about the blues, much of the information remains unsurpassed, and locked away, more or less inaccessible unless you were picking up the magazine form the beginning. As far as I know you can't access back issues at any library and there is no archive online. This is why the new book is so valuable, even if it gives us just a brief look at the wealth found in those old BU's. Hopefully there will be a sequel. On today's Show I air an interview I conducted with Bill Greensmith a few weeks back. Bill was a wonderful and knowledgeable interview. Even though we chatted for over an hour we only touched on a few of the artists (chosen by my interest) featured in the book and today's show revolves around those artists. Below is some background.
Juke Boy Bonner's musical career began as a child, singing in a gospel group and by the age of twelve he had taught himself the guitar. In 1947 he moved to Houston, winning first prize in a talent show at the Lincoln Theatre in the city. This success lead to regular gigs at lounges, bars and juke joints throughout the Houston area, however the chances to record were strictly limited and by the mid-fifties he headed for the West Coast. In 1957, Bonner made his recording debut for the Irma label, in Oakland, California cutting four sides. Just two sides were issued, "Rock With Me Baby"/"Well Baby." He returned to touring the South, frequenting bars and juke joints in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana, where he cut three sessions for Goldband Records in Lake Charles in 1960, billed as Juke Boy Bonner — The One Man Trio. Some of these sides found their way to a European release on a Storyville album and attracted attention from European blues enthusiasts. But the breaks didn't come Juke Boy's way until 1967, when sterling work primarily by editors of Blues Unlimited magazine led to recording opportunities for the small Flyright label and for an eventual European tour. During the late 60's, Bonner suffered from bouts of ill health and underwent major stomach surgery. He earned a meager living playing gigs in Houston.
Blues Unlimited raised enough money for Juke Boy to cut a 45 for the Blues Unlimited label in Houston in 1967. Chris Strachwitz, owner of Arhoolie Records, on a field trip to Texas heard the record and cut an album with him in December 1967. Further sessions followed for Arhoolie in Houston during 1967, 1968 and 1969. Passport difficulties prevented him from joining the 1968 Folk Blues Festival Tour. He found his way to Europe in 1969 where he cut the album Things Ain't Right for Liberty. Throughout the early and mid-seventies his popularity grew and he continued to tour Europe as well as playing dates in Houston, however he couldn't match his European popularity at home. He became dogged by ill health, divorced from his wife and living in a small rented 10ft by 10ft room in a rundown house in the heart of Houston's black ghetto. Bonner was reduced to unloading trucks and collecting aluminum cans to make a living. The frustration and bitterness are reflected in the comments made by a longtime friend to the Houston Chronicle: "He used to say he could go to Europe and earn $1000 dollars but he couldn't make $50 in his hometown." He died in 1978. The week of his death the Houston Chronicle ran the headline: “Weldon ‘Juke Boy’ Bonner, well known in Europe, dies alone in his hometown.”
Aaron and Marion (he changed his name to Milton in 1929) were twins born to Ruth and Sullie Gant in Tupelo, Mississippi. The brothers cut four sessions as the Sparks Brothers, the first for Victor and the other three for Bluebird, between 1932 and 1935. Milton cut two songs for Decca in 1934 under the name Flyin' Lindberg. Aaron backed a number of St. Louis artists at their second session: Elisabeth Washington, Tecumseh McDowell, Dorotha Trowbridge, James "Stump" Johnson and Charlie McFadden. The brothers' led rough and tumble lives reflected in songs that dealt with gambling, jail, alcohol, woman, hoboing and railroads. In spite of their lyrics and rough background, the music the brothers made was surprisingly tender and wistful. They excelled at thoughtful, mid-tempo blues such as "East Chicago Blues", "Down On The Levee" and "4X11=44" a reference to number combination for playing policy.
Milton possessed a strong, nasal voice that is extremely appealing while Milton had a warm, sensitive vocal that occasionally dips into a mellow falsetto. Aaron was an exceptional and versatile piano player as Chris Smith appraises: "Aaron's playing features the steady chordal basses typical of St. Louis, and a very inventive right hand, endowed with melodic grace and propulsive energy. He was also a capable boogie playe r, with a singing line and a fondness for medium tempos." Aaron's fine abilities as an accompanist extend to his backing a trio of St. Louis ladies. Elisabeth Washington was an appealing, slightly nasal singer with a good sense of delivery; "Riot Call Blues" and "Whiskey Blues" (1933) are particularly tough blues with the latter opening with the line "Everyday I have the blues" a song that the brothers would debut two years later. Mike Rowe with help from Charlie O'Brien wrote the definitive pice on the Sparks Brothers in Blues Unlimited 144 published in 1983. The bulk of the information came from an interview with the brothers' uncle, Aaron Sparks.
Joe Dean recorded one great 78 in 1930: “I'm So Glad I'm Twenty-One Years Old Today b/w Mexico Bound Blues" for Paramount, who dubbed him ‘‘Joe Dean from Bowling Green.’’ Dean was born in St. Louis on April 25, 1908. Raised by his widowed mother, Dean began by playing house parties and small clubs. Dean worked in a steel mill, playing intermittently, until the 1950's. He remained musically active on a part-time basis into the 1960's. He eventually became the Rev. Joe Dean and died on June 24 1981. He was interviewed by Mike Rowe for Blues Unlimited 127 in 1977.
Lavada Durst, known as Dr. Hepcat, who was a disciple of Robert Shaw but who recorded infrequently. He worked in baseball for much of his life, training players and announcing games, and it was from the latter activity that he graduated to working as a DJ, broadcasting over KVET, a white station in Austin. There he developed the persona of Dr.Hepcat, with an extraordinary line in jive talk. He also made a few records of his own, but despite his high profile on radio, it appears that these can't have sold very well, as they are extremely rare, even one issued on the comparatively major independent label Peacock; the other two were on the local Uptown label, one issued under the pseudonym of Cool Papa Smith. He made a handful of latter day recordings before passing in 1995. Dr. Hepcat was interviewed in Blues Unlimited 129 in 1978.
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.
Maceo's first session fielded 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. Maceo recorded more sides in 1945 including his classic piano instrumental "Chicago Breakdown." 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.
Louise Johnson was barrelhouse pianist and girlfriend of Charlie Patton’s who went to Grafton to make records with Patton, Willie Brown and Son House in 1930. She cut four sides at that session, her sole recorded legacy. From the book Preachin' The Blues Dan Beaumont writes: "North of Robinsonville, Patton directed Ford to visit the Kirby plantation where they picked up a young woman named Louise Johnson, who was one of Patton’s girlfriends. Johnson sang and played piano in a barrelhouse operated by a Liny Armstrong. Willie Brown had heard her playing, and he then introduced her to Patton who soon found time for her. House remembered her 'nice-lookin’…’bout twenty-three, twenty-four years old.' And like her boyfriend Patton, she 'didn’t do nothin’ but drink and play music; she didn’t work for nobody…' Somewhere along the trip her and Patton had a fight and she became House's girlfriend. "Back in Mississippi, the foursome played in a barrelhouse on the Kirby plantation near Lula for a brief time, then went their separate ways. According to [Stephen] Calt and [Gayle] Wardlow, House saw Louise Johnson only once after 1930. He thought she had moved to Helena, Arkansas. Another report had her playing in the 1930's on the King and Anderson plantation near Clarksdale. Then she vanished from view." Bob Hall and Richard Noblet wrote the definitive piece on her in Blues Unlimited 115 in 1975. No additional information has turned up on her since.
Bill Greensmith writes to in the preface to the Red Holloway interview: "The Chicago R&B and jump music scene of the 1940s and '50s happily coexisted alongside the more celebrated and familiar down-home amplified style of Muddy Waters. Howlin' Wolf, and Little Walter. …In 1974 Mike Leadbitter, in a column titled 'Chicago Flipside', was one of the first people to bemoan the fact that these artists, the clubs they performed in, and the companies who were recording them were largely undocumented." Red Holloway was very much part of this scene and Bill Greensmith conducted a wonderful. candid interview with him that was published in Blues Unlimited 117 and 118 in 1976. Today we close the show with Holloway backing The Four Blazes and Sunnyland Slim.