Entries tagged with “Blind John Davis”.


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Big Bill BroonzyOn Folk Songs/Going Down the Road Feeling BadAmsterdam Live Concerts
Sammy Price Frenchy's Blues Blues & Boogie Woogie from Texas
Little Brother MontgomeryRailroad BluesThe Piano Blues: Unissued Recordings Vol. 1
Champion Jack DupreeLondon Special New Orleans Barrelhouse
Louisiana RedBring It On HomeLive At Montreux
Dr. Isaiah Ross Hobo BluesLive At Montreux
Big Mama ThorntonGood Girl In LondonIn Europe
Juke Boy BonnerRunnin' ShoesAmerican Folk Blues Festival '69
Memphis Slim & Roosevelt Sykes Introducing The Grinder Man And The HoneydripperDouble-Barreled Boogie
Memphis Slim Mr. Sykes BluesDouble-Barreled Boogie
Blind John DavisWhen I Lost My Baby Alive 'Live' And Well
Sonny Boy Williamson III'm Trying To Make London My Home Sony Boy Williamson in Europe
Lonnie Johnson & Otis SpannJelly Jelly Blues Masters
Sonny Terry with Brownie McGheeI'm Afraid of FireWizard of the Harmonica
Lightnin' Slim & Whispering SmithTexas FloodAmerican Blues Legends 73'
Eddie BurnsBury Me Back In The USA American Blues Legends 75'
Professor LonghairHey NowLive In London
Katie WebsterKate's Worried BluesTexas Boogie Queen
Willie MabonWhy Did It Happen To Me Cold Chilly Woman
Muddy WatersHoochie Coochie ManChris Barber Presents: Lost & Found Vol.2
Howlin' Wolf Going Down SlowRockin' The Blues: Live in Germany 1964
John Jackson Early Morning BluesLive In Europe
Mississippi Fred McDowellWhat's The Matter With Papa's Little Angel ChildIn London Vol. II

Show Notes:

Today's program is the first of a three part feature on blues artists recorded in Europe spanning the late 40's through the 70's. Outside of Lonnie Johnson and Alberta Hunter, the blues hadn't reached European shores prior to the 1940's The late 40's saw a few artists such as Leadbelly and Sammy Price hit Europe, with Price being the first to record. Josh White recorded the first guitar blues outside the U.S. The biggest impact, however, was Big Bill Broonzy's arrival in 1951 and subsequent tours through 1957. By 1958 Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and Muddy Waters had come to England. 1960 saw Jack Dupree, Memphis Slim, Roosevelt Sykes, Little Brother Montgomery and Speckled Red appear in England. Dupree and Slim would both settle in Europe. Europe would become a haven for blues pianists with Curtis Jones, Eddie Boyd and Little Willie Littlefield all settling there. 1962 saw the inaugural American Folk Blues Festival which featured the absolute cream of the blues scene and toured almost annually until 1972. During the 70's blues artists continued to tour Europe and there were package tours such as The American Blues Legends Tour which ran in 1973, 74, 75 and 79 and major concerts like the Montreux Jazz Festival which always had a blues component. Other artists also recorded in Europe like Blind John Davis, Professor Longhair, Lightnin' Slim and Louisiana Red who settled in Germany. Our mufti-part look at European blues is by no means comprehensive or chronological but does, I think, provide an entertaining and wide survey of excellent recordings made across the pond by people who truly appreciated a music that was too often neglected in its own country.

 Big Bill Broonzy
A still from the Big Bill Broonzy film Low Light & Blue Smoke, Brussels, 1956.

We open our series of European blues shows fittingly with monologue and song by Big Bill Broonzy. As Paul Vernon Wrote: "Regarded at the time as the first 'genuine' blues singer to visit Europe, between 1951 and his final 1957 tour, Big Bill returned every year except 1954, played concerts in London, Nottingham, Brighton and Edinburgh; in Paris and elsewhere in France; in Brussels, Antwerp, Copenhagen, Milan and Madrid, appeared on French radio, British and Italian television, was filmed in Brussels had many European-made records issued aimed at his new European audience. Press coverage was significant and he was viewed as “the last great blues singer” by the fans who took him completely at his word. That he cannily tailored his style to what he accurately believed to be European expectations is now thoroughly understood and accepted, but for all his “folksiness” he was, of course, a genuine bluesman and a wonderful guitarist. His career, in danger of imploding in the U.S., changed course in Europe and in doing so changed the course of Blues history. ” Big Bill’s European success lit the long fuse that would lead to the explosion in the early 1960’s."

Broonzy (described in adverts as “last of the country bluesmen”) spent time in Europe, especially France, in the early 1950s, and, as Guido van Rijn reveals, established especially strong connections in the Netherlands where he had a long-term relationship that produced a son. He first toured the United Kingdom in 1951 following a stint organized by the Hot Club de France in Paris. The two concerts that Broonzy played at Kingsway Hall, Holborn, in September of 1951 were aggressively promoted by the blues evangelists; during the months of August and September the jazz press featured articles about the blues in general, and Broonzy in particular. His appearances were emceed by Alan Lomax, who not only introduced the singer but also drew him into discussions about the songs and their social import, making the audience feel “as if they had wandered more or less by accident into one of those fabulous jazz parties of which the books are full.”34 The critical response was unanimously positive.

As Paul Oliver noted: "A profound influence on many of his contemporary singers and musicians, Big Bill was exceptional in every respect. I was honored to draw a number of illustrations for his autobiography, Big Bill Blues, edited by Yannick Bruynogue and published in 1955. He showed little sign of decline during his frequent visits in the 1950s, but he died of throat cancer in 1958. I learned a lot from Big Bill; if our collecting and research had enabled us to take the measure of the blues in its diversity and distribution, it was Broonzy who gave an insight of its depth."

Lonnie Donegan, the Glasgow-born banjo player with Chris Barber’s jazz band began to play guitar and sing versions of American folk and blues songs during the band’s intermission. One of these songs, “Rock Island Line,” originally recorded by Leadbelly, was so popular it was released as a record in 1956, sold three million copies, and became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The skiffle craze was launched. The popularity of this music encouraged Chris Barber to bring over blues artists to the United Kingdom. In 1958 Barber brought Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry to England, including an appearance on British television. That year also witnessed Muddy Water’s first controversial British appearance in Leeds, again engineered by Barber. Within an emerging fan-base that valued the acoustic guitar as the premier blues instrument, Muddy’s amplification startled and dismayed many, but it also riveted others. As Waters said, “They thought I was Big Bill Broonzy…” Waters would return in 1962 and as Paul Oliver wrote: “Muddy made a typical error when he sang at the Leeds festival, in playing his electric guitar to an audience that couldn’t take one from a blues singer. He made another one this time—in playing a bright new Spanish box when he ought to have played electric guitar.”  “Back at his London hotel after the concert,” Val Wilmer reported, “he sat shaking his head in disbelief … Just what did they want, these [British] white folks?”

American Folk Blues Festival Poster 1964

Blues pianists were particularly taken with Europe and warmly welcomed, with many becoming exiles. In February 1948 blues pianist Sam Price sat down in a Paris studio and cut six boogie solos, thus becoming the first blues musician to record outside the U.S. Pianist Blind John Davis toured Europe with Broonzy in 1952. In later years Davis toured and recorded frequently in Europe, where he enjoyed a higher profile than in his homeland. He recorded several albums in Europe including Alive And Well, Stomping On A Saturday Night and Live In Hamburg all recorded in Germany and The Incomparable recorded in the Netherlands. The precedent set by Price and Davis blossomed in 1960, a great year for piano fans, Jack Dupree, Memphis Slim, Roosevelt Sykes, Little Brother Montgomery and Speckled Red all appeared in England. Researcher Francis Wilford-Smith had, since 1960, invited many of them to his Sussex home and with their consent, recorded them in performance in his living room. Though much remains currently unissued, there are excellent full-length albums from this period of Champion Jack Dupree and Little Brother Montgomery.

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 American Folk Festival. In 1962 he moved permanently to Paris and he became the most prominent blues artist in Europe for nearly three decades. He appeared on television in numerous European countries, acted in several French films and wrote the score for another, and performed regularly in Paris, throughout Europe, and on return visits to the United States. His status was recognized by France, which awarded him the title of Commander of Arts and Letters, and by the U.S. Senate, which in1978 named him Ambassador-at-Large of Good Will. By the time of his death in Paris in 1988, he had recorded for nearly forty different blues record labels. Our selection by Slim comes from the album Double-Barreled Boogie recorded in 1970 as Slim and Roosevelt Sykes gathered in a recording studio in Paris and reminisce about the old days, talk about the origin of some of their songs, and joke a bit.

Willie Mabon settled in Paris in 1972. He toured and recorded in Europe as part of promoter Jim Simpson's American Blues Legends tour, recording The Comeback for Simpson's Big Bear Records label, and a 1977 album on Ornament Records. He also performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival. In April 1985, after a long illness, Mabon died in Paris. Our selection, "Why Did it Happen To Me", comes from the album Cold Chilly Woman recorded in Bordeaux, France in 1972.

Sonny Boy Williamson II
Sonny Boy Williamson in Britain during the American Folk Blues Festival

The American Folk Blues Festival (AFBF) was an annual event that featured the cream of American blues musicians barnstorming their way across Europe throughout the 60's. The impact of these annual tours had a profound impact on those that were in attendance. Future stars such as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page any many others were in the audience and were directly influenced by what they saw. The rise of blues based bands like the The Rolling Stones, Yardbirds and Animals can be directly attributed to the AFBF. The festival, founded by Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau in 1962, featured performances by luminaries like John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, Memphis Slim, and Willie Dixon and drew sellout crowds and rave reviews. Many of the artists found they were far more popular in Britain than in the United States, where audiences for the blues were diminishing. Several emigrated, and others seized the new commercial opportunities presented by the British blues boom by recording extensively for the European market and touring the blues club circuit with bands comprised of their young devotees.

In 1963 Sonny Boy Williamson was headed to Europe for the first time, as part of the American Folk Blues Festival. He loved Europe and stayed behind in Britain when the tour headed home. He started working the teenage beat club circuit, touring and recording with the Yardbirds and Eric Burdon's band, whom he always referred to as "de Mammimals." Sonny Boy was truly appreciative of all the attention, and contemplated moving to Europe permanently but went back to the States and made some final recordings for Chess. He returned to England in 1964 and one of his final recordings, with Jimmy Page on guitar, was entitled "I'm Trying to Make London My Home."

In 1964, Howlin' Wolf toured eastern and western Europe with the American Blues Festival. In 1970 he recorded The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions in England with Eric Clapton, members of the Rolling Stones, and other British rock stars. It was his best-selling album, reaching #79 on the pop charts.

American Blues Legends '73In 1965 Fred McDowell toured Europe with The American Folk Blues Festival, together with Big Mama Thornton, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Roosevelt Sykes and others. In 1969 came a second tour of Europe. In Britain he recorded his first solo album using electric guitar – Mississippi Fred McDowell in London (Volumes I and II on Sire and Transatlantic).

It was Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie records who was instrumental in getting Big Mama Thornton booked on the 1965 American Folk Blues Festival. In London she recorded an album with members of the tour; Buddy Guy (guitar), Fred Below (drums), Eddie Boyd (keyboards), Jimmy Lee Robinson (bass), and Walter Horton (harmonica), except for three songs which Fred McDowell provided acoustic slide guitar. The album was subsequently issued on the Arhoolie label.

Dr. Ross first hit Europe in 1965 for the American Folk Blues Festival. While in London he recorded what would be the first LP on Blue Horizon Records. In 1972 he recorded for Ornament Records during a German tour and performed at the 1972 Montreux Jazz Festival with a subsequent album released of the performance. The Harmonica Boss was recorded in London in 1972 and in 1974 he recorded Jivin' The Blues also in London. Europe loved Ross and gave him work and recording opportunities; he was never as popular at home.

Juke Bonner 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. Passport difficulties prevented him from joining the 1968 American Folk Blues Festival Tour but was on the tour 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. 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.”

In the wake of the success of the AFBF, there were other package tours and festivals. There was the American Folk Blues and  Gospel  Caravan formed in 1964 (Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Blind Gary Davis, Cousin Joe, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Muddy Waters, Otis Spann) and  The American Blues Legends tour which was run by promoter Jim Simpson who operated the Big Bear label. Simpson released albums of the tour for the years 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1979.There was also festivals like the Montreux Jazz Festival which launched in 1967 in Switzerland and always had strong blues representation.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Louisiana Red Story Of Louisiana Red Lowdown Back Porch Blues
Louisiana Red Where Is My Friend?Best of
Louisiana Red Red's DreamBest of
Bo Carter Last Go RoundBo Carter Vol. 2 193 -1934
Charlie CampbellGoin' Away BluesAlabama & The East Coast 1933-1937
Blind BlakePoker Woman BluesAll The Published Sides
Lafayette ThomasOld MemoriesWest Coast Guitar Killers
Jody WilliamsWhat Kind of Gal Is ThatChess Blues Guitar: Two Decades of Killer Fretwork 1949-1969
Rosa HendersonChicago Policeman BluesRosa Henderson Vol. 4 1926-1931
Sippie WallaceYou Gonna Need My HelpSippie Wallace Vol. 2 1925-1945
Bessie SmithCareless LoveComplete Recordings, Vol. 4 (Frog)
Blind John DavisBooze Drinking Benny
Blind John Davis Vol. 1 1938-1952
Blind John DavisAnna Lou BreakdownBlind John Davis Vol. 1 1938-1952
Jimmie HudsonRum River Blues78
T-Bone WalkerHere In The DarkThe Complete Imperial Recordings: 1950-1954
Teddy BunnJackson's NookVery Best Of 1937-1940
George & Ethel McCoy Mary (Penitentiary)Early In the Morning
Daddy HotcakesCorrine CorrinaThe Blues In St. Louis - Daddy Hotcakes
Bessie JonesBeggin' the BluesAlan Lomax Blues Songbook
Mabel HilleryHow Long Has That Train Been Gone45
Freddie ShayneLonesome Man BluesMontana Taylor And Freddie Shayne 1929-1946
Freddie ShayneOriginal Mr. Freddie BluesMontana Taylor And Freddie Shayne 1929-1946
Willie (W.C.) Baker Goin' Back Home Today The Devil Is A Busy Man
Bee HoustonTen Years To Life45
Peg Leg HowellMoanin' And Groanin' BluesAtlanta Blues
Walter "Buddy Boy" HawkinsHow Come Mama BluesWilliam Harris & Buddy Boy Hawkins 1927 - 192
Dixieland Jug BlowersIf You Can't Make It Easy, Sweet MamaClifford Hayes And The Dixieland Jug Blowers
Louisiana Red Too Poor To Die Midnight Rambler
Louisiana Red Sweet Blood Call Midnight Rambler
Louisiana Red Bring It On HomeLive At Montreux

Show Notes:

As I was putting the finishing touches on this week's show I received the news that Louisiana Red had passed. He died  in Germany at the age of 79. By his own account he had a hard life as he announced in his haunting "The Story of Louisiana Red" which opens today's show: "Now this here's a sad one. It's about my life." He lost his parents early in life through multiple tragedies; his mother died of pneumonia a week after his birth, and his father was lynched by the Klu Klux Klan when he was five. Red began recording for Chess in 1949 (as Rocky Fuller). His early sides were heavily indebted to Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. He joined the Army and after his discharge, he played with John Lee Hooker in Detroit for almost two years in the late '50s, and continued through the '60s and '70s with recording sessions for Chess, Checker, Atlas, Glover, Roulette, L&R, and Tomato, among others. Louisiana Red moved to Hanover, Germany in 1981, and maintained a busy recording and performing schedule through the subsequent decades.

Red recorded prolifically through the years. Among his better efforts was the album The Lowdown Backporch Blues (1963) featuring striking topical numbers like the humorous "Red's Dream" and "Ride On Red, Ride On." The single "I'm Too Poor to Die"  had minor chart success in 1964. We also feature two tracks from the out-of-print Midnight Rambler, a compilation of sessions cut for the Blue Labor label in 1975-1976. We play his update of  "I'm Too Poor to Die"  and the chilling "Sweet Blood Call:"

"I have a hard time missin’ you baby, with my pistol in your mouth (2x)
You may be thinkin’ ‘bout goin’ north, but your brains are stayin’ south"
 

Also on tap today are a trio of 1920's blues queens, a pair of songs apiece by piano men Blind John Davis and Freddie Shayne plus we spin a batch of great long out-of-print blues records. Rosa Henderson is the least known of today's featured blues queens. In 1963 Len Kunstadt tracked down Henderson and wrote a feature on her in Record Research: "She began her career about 1913 in her uncle's carnival show. She played tent and plantation shows all over the South with one long streak of 5 years in Texas. She sang nothing but the blues. During this period she married Slim Henderson, a great comedian and showman, and she became professionally, ROSA HENDERSON. Slim joined up with John Mason and from this association a troupe was born which included Rosa. They played the country from one end to the other. In the mid 20s the Mason Henderson troupe really began to hit big time with headline attraction bill¬ing in many of the larger theatres. Rosa also received star billing in some independent ventures. …From May 1927 through September 1927 Rosa Henderson was a top race blues recurring artist. She was on Victor, Vocalion, Ajax, Perfect, Pathe, Brunswick, Paramount, Emerson, Edison, Columbia, Banner, Domino, Regal, Oriole, English Oriole, Silvertone and others. Besides her own name she was Flora Dale on Domino; Mamie Harris and Josephine Thomas on Pathe and Perfect; Sally Ritz (her sister's name) on Banner; and probably Sarah Johnson and Gladys White on other labels….In 1927 Rosa was hitting her real stride as a single but just a year later Rosa quit in her prime due to the unexpected death of husband, Slim." She made her final recordings in 1931. From 1926 we spin her remarkably outspoken "Chicago Policeman Blues:"

Policemen in Chicago they can't police at all (2x)
They only wear their uniform, or blue just for a song (?)
Most every cop in town, black and white all have a grudge (2x)
If you don't know you better, then to say good morning judge

I've got the blues, Chicago policeman blues (2x)
They wouldn't give a pick (?) of you for Peter or Paul
They send you away for absolutely nothing at all
I've got the blues, Chicago policeman blues (3x)

I'm expressin' my opinion, just the way I feel
Pigs about the only things supposed to squeal
I've got the blues, Chicago policeman blues

We hear some fine piano blues from Blind John Davis and Freddie Shayne. From 1938 we spin Davis' jazzy brand of blues as heard on "Booze Drinking Benny" and "Anna Lou Breakdown" both featuring the electric guitar of George Barnes (one of the first Chicago musicians to record with an electric guitar). In 1973 Davis was interviewed by Melody Maker: "I started recording in 1937—Big Bill Broonzy was a friend of my Dad's and he fixed for me to play on one of his sessions 'Sweet William Blues' I think it was. That was for Vocalion or Columbia. …They all seemed to like my playing so I got  to play on most of the sessions around at the time….I was top piano player for Lester Melrose's Wabash Music Company. …"I could play for anybody  excepting Big Boy Crudup. I think no piano player in the world could play for him 'cos he plays so damn irregular. …In 1949 I made my first recordings under my own name— for MGM, that was. Before I had no desire to sing and the record producers told me I didn't sound Southern enough. They got me recording again in '51 — this time with George Barnes on guitar and Ransom Knowling playing bass. I cut a lot of records over in Europe with Big Bill Broonzy — but we wasn't paid for none of them. I kept copies of all my recordings, but my house burned out in 1955 and I lost everything!"

Freddie Shayne is a shadowy figure who spent his life working in Chicago. He first time on record was backing singer Priscilla Stewart on “Mr. Freddie Blues.” Shayne also made a very rare piano roll of this song. In 1935 Shayne recorded a solo record, “Original Mr. Freddie Blues b/w Lonesome Man Blues.” “Mr. Freddie Blues” became something of a boogie standard covered by many artists including Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson, Jimmy Blythe, Art Tatum and others. In the 40's he made some recordings for the Circle label where he also backed singer Bertha “Chippie” Hill.

From the out-of-print file we spin records by George and Ethel McCoy, Daddy Hotcakes, Bee Houston and Mabel Hillary. George and Ethel McCoy were a brother and sister guitar duo who lived in St. Louis. Their aunt was Memphis Minnie who taught Ethel first hand. They recorded the album Early In the Morning for the Adelphi label in 1969 and later saw some recordings out on the Swingmaster label.

George “Daddy Hotcakes” Montgomery was born in Georgia and came moved to St. Louis in 1918. He began singing the blues as a youngster and worked as an entertainer during the 1920’s. Sometime in the late 30’s he had an opportunity to record through blues artist and talent scout Charlie Jordan but the recording session fell through. He was still occasionally playing parties when Sam Charters recorded him in 1961. The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 1: Daddy Hotcakes is his only recording.

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Bee Houston played in the backing bands of Little Willie John, Junior Parker, Bobby "Blue" Bland and others in the late '50s and early '60s. After a two-year army stint, Houston moved to the West Coast. He toured and recorded frequently with Big Mama Thornton in the '60s, and also accompanied several visiting blues players during West Coast visits. Houston recorded for Arhoolie in the '60s and '70s, and also made several festival appearances and club dates. Our selection, "Ten Years To Life", was issued as a 1970 single on the Joliet label (Joliet 203).

A member of The Georgia Sea Island Singers, Mable Hillery was less known than leaders, Big John Davis or Bessie Jones. Between 1961 and 1965 she toured the college circuit of campuses, coffee houses, church basements, and festivals, from Berkeley to Philadelphia, from the Ash Grove in Los Angeles to the Café à Go-Go in New York City. She toured Europe in the 60's and cut a session in London in 1968 for Transatlantic which was issued as It's So Hard To Be A Nigger on their budget Xtra label. Other scattered sides appeared on anthologies.

We also spin a track by fellow Georgia Sea Island singer Bessie Jones. Our cut, "Beggin' the Blues", was recorded by Alan Lomax. In the 1960s, with the assistance of Lomax, Bessie Jones, together with John Davis, Peter Davis, Mable Hillery, Emma Ramsey, and Henry Morrison, formed the Georgia Sea Island Singers and traveled to colleges and folk music venues throughout the country.

Related Articles:

Rosa Henderson – Yesterday and Today by Len Kunstadt (Record Research 75, April 1966)

-Farewell Rosa Henderson by By Derrick Stewart-Baxter (Jazz Journal, July 1968)

-Blind John – Man of Respect by Jim Simpson (Melody Maker, 24 November 1973)

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Big John Wrencher Trouble Makin' Woman 45
Big John Wrencher Runnin' Wild 45
Mississippi SheiksStill I'm Traveling OnHoney Babe Let The Deal Go Down
Red Nelson Black Gal StompRed Nelson 1935-1947
Blind John Davis Jersey Cow Blues Blind John Davis 1938-1952
Thomas Shaw Born In TexasBorn In Texas
Thomas Shaw All Out And DownBorn In Texas
Muddy WatersStandin' Around CryinOne More Mile
Larry JohnsonFour Woman BluesFast & Funky
J.W. Warren Hoboing Into HollywoodLife Ain't Worth Livin'
Guitar Slim War Service Blues Greensboro Rounder
Guitar Slim Lovin Home BluesGreensboro Rounder
Blue Smitty Sad StoryDrop Down Mama
Floyd JonesPlayhouseDrop Down Mama
Howlin' Wolf Decoration DaySun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958
Mattie May ThomasBig Mac From MacamereAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Bessie Smith I've Got What It Takes (But It Breaks My Heart To Give It Away)The Complete Recordings (Frog)
Ruth Willis Man of My OwnCountry Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
Shakey Jake HarrisA Hard Road to TravelFurther On Up The Road
T-Bone Walker You Don't Know What You're DoingT-Bone Blues
Fats JeffersonLove Me BluesGoin' Back To Tifton
Buddy DurhamBlues All Around My HeadGoin' Back To Tifton
Tiny BradshawKnockin' BluesBreakin' Up the House
Louis JordanBuzz Me Good Times Live 1948-49
Gatemouth BrownShe Winked Her EyeBoogie Uproar: Texas Blues & R&B 1947-54
Walter Horton & Jimmy DeBerryElectrocution BluesBack
Walter Horton & Jimmy DeBerryEverybody's Fishin'Back
Ramblin' ThomasSo LonesomeCountry Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
Big Joe WilliamsMeet Me Around The CornerBig Joe Williams & the Stars of Mississippi Blues
Brownie McGheeCholly BluesThe Folkways Years 1945-1959
Lucille SpannCountry GirlCry Before I Go

Show Notes:

Blues Unlimted 106 – Big John Wrencher Cover

Today's show is the first blues show of the fall membership drive and we hope to hear from our loyal blues listeners. On deck for today's mix show are a fine batch of Chicago blues from Big John Wrencher, Muddy Waters, Blue Smitty, Floyd Jones and Lucille Spann. We also spotlight twin spins by down-home bluesmen Guitar Slim (Stephens) and Thomas Shaw, rare latter day tracks by the duo of Walter Horton & Jimmy DeBerry, a trio of tough blues ladies and more.

We open up with obscure 45 from the great one-armed harp blower Big John Wrencher. The sides were recorded by Big John in 1974 during his European tour  and I believe it's Eddie Taylor on guitar. They were released in 1979 in France as part of a six single Coca Cola Promo that covered various styles of popular music. Big John became a recognizable fixture  on Chicago's  Maxwell Street open air market which was  a seven-to ten-block area in Chicago that from the 1920's to the mid-'60s played host to various blues musicians, both professional and amateur, who performed right on the street for tips from passerby. Most of them who started their careers there (like Little Walter, Earl Hooker, Hound Dog Taylor, and others) and moved up to club work. Despite his enormous playing and performing talents, the discography on Wrencher remains thin. His first official recordings surfaced on a pair of Testament albums from the '60s, featuring him as a sideman role behind Robert Nighthawk. His only full album, Maxwell Street Alley Blues, surfaced in the early '70s on the Barrelhouse label. After years of vacillating between his regular Maxwell Street gig and a few appearances on European blues festivals, Wrencher decided to go back to Mississippi to visit family and old friends in July of 1977. There he died from a heart attack at the age of 54.

Claude "Blue Smitty" Smith allegedly taught Muddy Waters, already an accomplished slide guitar player in the 1940s, how to finger the fretboard of his instrument. Smitty cut just a few sides for Chess (under the name Blue Smitty & His String Men) in 1952 which were unissued at the time. From the session we play the doomy "Sad Story."

Jumping ahead twenty years we play a superb cut by Muddy Waters. "Standin' Around Cryin" comes from the 2-CD set One More Mile which includes 11 tracks from a 1972 Radio Lausanne broadcast featuring Muddy with Louis Myers on acoustic second guitar and Mojo Buford on harp. These are stunning performances and worth the price of this disc alone.

We close today's show with the track "Country Girl" from the wife of Muddy's long time pianist Otis Spann. Mahalia Lucille Jenkins began as a church gospel singer in Mississippi and continued to practice when her family moved to Chicago around 1952. She met Otis Spann in the 1960’s with the two beginning a musical collaboration and would later marry. Lucille and Otis performed regularly at college gigs and would record together until Otis passed in 1970. Lucille continued to work in music performing at the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival and making a few recordings before passing in 1994. Cry Before I Go was cut for Bluesway in 1973 and is her only full length album, never issued on CD. She also waxed a couple of 45's in the 70's.

The heyday of country blues was the 20's and 30's  when an incredible number of talented blues musicians got their shot at glory cutting records for the burgeoning race record market. The music eventually fell by the wayside, swept aside by changing musical trends. Yet the style never really went away and with a new found interest among white listeners came a number of men armed with portable equipment to document this music that still thrived in black communities. Roughly from the early 60's through the early 80's a prodigious amount of recording was done and issued on small specialty labels. Unfortunately a good amount of this material has never made it to the CD age. Today we spin some long out-of-print sides recorded by Kip Lornell as well as fine sides from this era by Tom Shaw and J.W. Warren.

Kip Lornell has worked on music projects for the Smithsonian Institute, has a doctorate in ethnomusicology and is the author of several articles and books. He also did some field notable field recording in the 70's. I want to thank Kip for making me a copy of the extremely hard to find Guitar Slim album. James “Guitar Slim” Stephens was born on March 10, 1915, near Spartanburg, South Carolina. He began playing pump organ when he was only five years old, singing spirituals he learned from his parents and reels he heard from his older brother pick on the banjo. Within a few years, Slim was playing piano. When he was thirteen, he began picking guitar, playing songs he heard at local house parties and churches. A few years later he joined the John Henry Davis Medicine Show, playing music to draw crowds. For in the next twenty or so years, he moved throughout the eastern United States living in such cities as Richmond, Durham, Louisville, Nashville, and Waterbury, Connecticut. In 1953 he arrived in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he lived for the remainder of his life playing both guitar and piano–singing the blues at house parties and spirituals at church. His lone LP, Greensboro Rounder, was issued in 1979 by the Flyright label and is a real lost gem. In 1980 he was recorded by Axel Kunster and Ziggy Christmann which was issued as part of the Living Country Blues series on the L&R label. Slim passed in 1989.

Lornell also made some recordings in the early 70's in Albany, NY of all places. These appeared on two Flyright LP's: Goin' Back To Tifton and North Florida Fives. Lornell also wrote a three part feature on the Albany blues scene in Living Blues magazine between 1973 and 1974. I don't have the latter record but we do spin two tracks from the former album.

Tom Shaw spent about five years on the Texas house party circuit in the 1920's and early 1930's before moving to San Diego in 1934. Shaw met many great Texas bluesmen including Smokey Hogg, T-Bone Walker, Mance Lipscomb, Blind Willie Johnson, Ramblin' Thoms, JT "Funny Papa" Smith and Blind Lemon Jefferson who he was clearly a disciple of. He met Jefferson in Waco, Texas in 1926 or 27. JT "Funny Papa" Smith offered to let Shaw play on one of his records in 1931 but Smith was sent to jail on a murder charge. In the 1960's and 70s he recorded for the Advent, Blue Goose and Blues Beacon labels before passing in 1977.

J.W. Warren was born in 1921 in Enterprise, AL. In a family of eleven children, he was the only one to take up music, starting at the age of fifteen or sixteen and was soon playing blues pieces at local juke joints and barbecues. . "I came up the hard way. I never had a break whatsoever. In other words, I never had a break in my life. I was born in the wrong part of the world and then again I didn't go any place else. …didn't do anything with the talent I had because I didn't have much education. When you got a back break like I had you doubt yourself, you know it's rough man!" Warren was recorded at his home in Ariton, AL in 1981, and 1982, by folklorist George Mitchell and made some sides in the 90's for Music Maker.

We spotlight a trio of tough blues ladies with tracks by Ruth Willis, Mattie May Thomas and Bessie Smith. Willis'  first session was for Columbia in Atlanta in October 1931, when she was accompanied by Blind Willie McTell on four tracks: "Rough Alley Blues", "Talkin' To You Wimmen About The Blues", "Experience Blues" and 'Painful Blues." The first two were issued as a single on the OKeh label, billed as by Mary Willis, accompanied by Blind Willie McTell; the other two tracks were issued as a Columbia single as by Ruth Day accompanied by Blind Sammie. A week later she made another OKeh single, "Low Down Blues b/w Merciful Blues", accompanied this time Curley Weaver, and issued as by Mary Willis. She had one more day in the studio in January 1933 where she cut "I'm Still Sloppy Drunk b/w Man Of My Own." Willis died the same year as Curley Weaver (1962), and three years after McTell.

Mattie May Thomas waxed three remarkable acapella numbers in 1939. They were recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in the woman's camp of the  notorious Parchman Farm.

Walter Horton & Jimmy DeBerry Reunion in Memphis Aug 29 1972

Jimmy DeBerry and Walter Horton cut two very hard-to-find albums circa 1972-1973 in Memphis called Easy and Back. DeBerry cut some material in the pre-war era and some terrific sides for Sun in the 1950's, both solo and with Walter Horton including playing on Horton's classic "Easy." These albums are bit of a mixed bag but there are several great moments.

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