John Lee HookerRoad TroubleThe Complete John Lee Hooker Vol. 2
John Lee HookerTalkin' BoogieThe Complete John Lee Hooker Vol. 2
Homesick James Farmer's Blues Chicago Slide Guitar Legend
Homesick James Whiskey Headed Woman Chicago Slide Guitar Legend
Jo-Jo AdamsDidn't I Tell YouJo-Jo Adams 1946-1953
Jo-Jo AdamsI 've Got A Crazy BabyJo-Jo Adams 1946-1953
Sunnyland SlimTrain Time (4 O'Clock Blues)Sunnyland Slim & Pals
Sunnyland SlimRoll, Tumble and Slip (I Cried) Sunnyland Slim & Pals
Little Walter That's Alright Chicago Boogie
Jimmy Reed High Lonesome Jimmy Reed: The Vee-Jay Years
Johnny WilliamsFat Mouth Chance Vintage Blues/R&B Crops Vol. 1
Big Boy SpiresWhich One Do I LoveChance Vintage Blues/R&B Crops Vol. 1
Big Boy SpiresMy Baby Left Me Chance Vintage Blues/R&B Crops Vol. 1
Big Boy SpiresAbout To Lose My MindDown Home Blues Classics Chicago
Homesick James WartimeChicago Slide Guitar Legend
Homesick JamesHomesick BluesChicago Slide Guitar Legend
Homesick JamesThe Woman I LoveChicago Slide Guitar Legend
Tampa RedBBaby Please Don't Throw Me DownTampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Tampa RedPlease Mr. Doctor Tampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Tampa RedBeat That Bop Tampa Red Vol. 15 1951-1953
Homesick JamesLate Hours After MidnightChicago Slide Guitar Legend
Homesick James12th Street StationChicago Blues: The Chance Era
Willie Nix No More LoveDown Home Blues Classics Chicago
Willie NixNervous Wreck Downhome Blues Classics: Chicago
Willie NixJust Can't Stay Downhome Blues Classics: Chicago
Lazy Bill LucasI Had A DreamDown Home Blues Classics: Chicago
Lazy Bill LucasI Can't Eat, Can't SleepChicago Blues: The Chance Era
Lazy Bill LucasShe Got Me Walkin' Down Home Blues Classics: Chicago
J.B. Hutto & His HawksPet Cream ManDown Home Blues Classics: Chicago
J.B. Hutto & His HawksDim LightsDown Home Blues Classics: Chicago
J.B. Hutto & His HawksPrice Of Love Chicago Blues: The Chance Era
J.B. Hutto & His HawksCombination Boogie Down Home Blues Classics: Chicago

Show Notes:

Chance Records was a Chicago-based label founded in 1950 by Art Sheridan. Chance was one of many independent Chicago labels from this period with a slant towards blues; several labels we've spotlighted in previous shows like J.O.B.Mercury, United/States, Aristocrat, Vee-Jay plus a slew of others like Parrot, Opera, Blue Lake, Hy-Tone, Miracle and many others. The bulk of today's notes come from The Red Saunders Research Foundation website, a tremendous repository of information on the Chicago music scene in the post-war era.

Jo Jo Adams Billboard, Nov. 15, 1952

Homesick James Billboard, Feb. 28, 1953

Chance cut 362 known sides from September 1950 through October 1954. In addition, Chance purchased or licensed at least 42 sides. There was one release on its very short-lived tributary Meteor and nine on its later subsidiary Sabre. The bulk of Chance's output was in the R&B field, which reflected the knowledge amassed by the label's founder and owner, Art Sheridan. Sheridan (born July 16, 1925 in Chicago) had been running a distributorship and a pressing plant, where the preponderance of his work was with African-American oriented product. Chance specialized in blues, jazz, doo-wop, and gospel. Among the acts who recorded for Chance were The Flamingos, The Moonglows, Homesick James, J. B. Hutto, Brother John Sellers, and Schoolboy Porter. In addition, Chance released three singles by John Lee Hooker and made a coordinated issue of the first singles by Jimmy Reed and The Spaniels with the brand-new and still tiny Vee-Jay Records. At the beginning of 1953 Chance also formed a brief alliance with J.O.B. label. Sheridan would distribute and market both labels through the distribution channels he established. The company closed down at the end of 1954. Sheridan went on to became one of the financial backers of Vee-Jay. Below is some background on today's artists.

The first tracks to be leased or purchased by the Chance operation were six 1949 recordings by bluesman John Lee Hooker and released by Chance in 1951 and 1952. These were obtained Joe Von Battle in Detroit; featuring just Hooker's vocals and guitar, these were reportedly recorded in the back of Von Battle's record store and they certainly sound like it. They were issued on Chance as by John Lee Booker which I'm sure didn't fool anyone. We kick off today's program with Hooker's "Talkin' Boogie" and "Road Trouble."

Among the first Chicago blues artists the label released were Sunnyland Slim and Little Walter. For more than 50 years Sunnyland Slim rumbled the ivories around the Windy City, playing with virtually every local luminary imaginable and backing the great majority in the studio at one time or another. Today's tracks were originally issued on the Opera label in 1947 then purchased and issued on Chance under the moniker Delta Joe. In 1952 Art Sheridan snapped up two further blues releases from now-defunct Chicago independents. He resuscitated the two sides that Little Walter Jacobs had cut in 1947 for Ora Nelle, with Jimmy Rogers and Othum Brown in the back of a Maxwell Street record shop. As Mike Rowe wrote in seminal Chicago Blues "the record was obviously released in an attempt to cash in on the huge success  that Walter was enjoying with Checker." Both the Sunnyland and the Walter records were released by Chance in 1952.

On June 12, 1952 the company did its first recordings on a downhome bluesman, the bottleneck guitar player and singer James Williamson, who would become known as Homesick James. Williamson was born John William Henderson most likley in 1910, in Somerville, Tennessee. He claimed to have played in the 1930's with blues notables such as Memphis Minnie, Sleepy John Estes and Sonny Boy Williamson I, which may well have been true, and to have recorded in 1939 with the Memphis street singer, Little Buddy Doyle, which almost certainly was not. As the blues writer David Whiteis noted: "He was a bluesman of the old school, through and through – a trickster from his heart." He first moved to Chicago in 1937 and played some local clubs. He returned to Memphis during the war years, but in the early 1950's settled again in Chicago. Williamson played a bit on Maxwell Street, and toured with the Elmore James band. Also during the 1950's he played in the city's clubs, often with the harmonica player Snooky Pryor or with the pianist Lazy Bill Lucas, who accompanied him on his first recordings, "Lonesome Old Train" and "Farmer's Blues", for the Chance label. James cut thirteen sides for Chance including some unissued material. Williamson later recorded for Prestige, Delmark, Earwig, and lastly Icehouse (in 1997). He died December 13, 2006, in Springfield, Missouri.

November 1952 saw a session with flamboyant uptown blues singer Jo Jo Adams, backed by the band of bebop trumpeter Melvin Moore. Of his start, Adams told Living Blues magazine "I started playing the blues when I saw a man standing on the stage and he was getting big money. He had a red pocket hand'chief around his neck and coveralls and I said, 'That's not the way it's supposed to go'. I introduced color to the stage. My tailor-made tails that were 55 inches long – when I spun around you could shoot dice on them!" At the time of his Chance date, Adams and Moore were working at the Flame Show Bar, where the show was billed as "The Jo Jo Show, starring Dr. Jo Jo Adams, Bennie Pittman, Laura Watson, Melvin Moore's Band." Besides singing, Adams served as MC at the Flame. Adams was born in Alabama at an unknown date and died in Chicago in 1988. He broke in at the Club DeLisa and made his first recordings with Floyd Smith's group for the Hy-Tone label in December 1946. He followed up with six sides for Aladdin in 1947, recorded in Los Angeles with the Maxwell Davis band, and 6 more for Aristocrat Aristocrat, which were done in Chicago in 1947 and 1948. He would record just one more session, for Parrot in 1953.

Sheridan began working with Vee-Jay Records in 1953, which had just set up shop and had two releases, one by the the doowop group the Spaniels and one by the bluesman Jimmy Reed. The company was owned by two neophytes, Jimmy Bracken and Vivian Carter, who had no distribution and little knowledge of the business. When the Spaniels' record, "Baby It's You," started generating interest, Chance picked it up for national distribution and it became a top ten R&B record. Reed's "High and Lonesome" b/w "Roll and Rhumba," also saw some local action, and picked up national sales from Chance distribution.

Johnny Williams was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, on May 15, 1906. He was raised first in Houston and then in Belzoni, Mississippi. His uncle played with Charlie Patton, and Williams got to know Patton and other legendary Delta bluesmen. Williams began performing in the late 1920's, arriving in Chicago in 1938. During much of the 1940's Williams played house parties. After World War II, he fell into the Maxwell Street scene, performing most often with Johnny Young. His only recording, cut in 1953, "Silver Haired Woman b/w Fat Mouth" was not released until the 1970s'.

Arthur "Big Boy" Spires cut a handful of brilliant down home sides for Checker and Chance in the 1950's and unissued sides in the 1960's for Testament before arthritis cut his career short. Spires was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi in 1912 and was inspired by local musicians. Spires moved to Chicago in 1943 and in the late 1940's began playing the Southside clubs with Eddie El and Little Earl Dranes. The trio made some demo recordings and Spires was picked up by Chess Records. He first pairing was "Murmur Low b/w One of These Days" which was issued on Checker in 1952. In 1953 he cut a session for Chance resulting in one issued record: "About To Lose My Mind b/w Which One Do I Love." He cut four other Chance sides that were not issued at the time but released decades later on various collections. Around this time he formed his own band called the Rocket Four playing various clubs around town until giving up music around 1959. In 1965 Spires and Johnny Young cut a batch of sides for Testament that went unissued except for "21 Below Zero" which came out on a compilation on the Storyville label. After the Testament session he worked mainly outside music and passed away in 1990

In 1953 Chance cut six sides by veteran Tampa Red. Chance put out the Tampa Red releases as by Jimmy Eager and His Trio, as Tampa was still under contract with RCA Victor at the time. He further disguised his identity by giving all of the guitar work to Lefty Bates. However, the composer credits went to Hudson Whittaker (which was Tampa Red's real name). Chance held the "Jimmy Eager" material for the initial release on its new Sabre label. Bates plays some stunning guitar on these sides but sadly cut little under his own name. For many years he was a stalwart at Chicago blues clubs such as the legendary Theresa’s, and appeared in the second guitar position on many records by blues giants such as Tampa Red, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy. Bates can also be heard doing session work for Chicago labels like Vee-Jay, Chance and Club 51

Willie Nix made his first records in Memphis for RPM in 1951, and cut sides for Chess Records' Checker offshoot in 1952. Sam Philips signed him up as "the Memphis Blues Boy" for Sun in early 1953, as a singing drummer with a band. He landed at Chance in 1954. Chance carried on a heavy recording schedule in October, recording bluesman Willie Nix, guitarist Rudolph Spencer "Rudy" Greene, and Lazy Bill. On October 14th the label recorded "Just Can't Stay" b/w "All by Myself," which saw release in November on Sabre 104. The band consisted of Nix on drums, Eddie Taylor on guitar, Sunnyland Slim on piano, and Snooky Pryor on harmonica. The other two sides from the session were released on Chance 1163 in November 1954.  Rowe describes "Just Can't Stay" as "a brilliant updating of a traditional theme of unrequited love to the urban setting with its images of hustlers, whores, and easy money."

Piano player and vocalist, Lazy Bill Lucas, was born May 29, 1918, in Wynne, Arkansas, and came to Chicago in 1941 where he met Big Joe Williams and toured with John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson in the 40'’s. Lazy Bill also played piano on records by Homesick James, Little Willie Foster, Little Hudson, Snooky Pryor and Jo Jo Williams. He cut "She Got Me Walking b/w I Had A Dream" for Chance in 1953. Two other songs from the same session, "My Baby’s Gone b/w I Can’t Eat, I Can’t Sleep", were not issued until decades later. In 1955 he cut two sides for Excello with the group the Blue Rockers. He moved to Minneapolis in 1962 where he was active for close to two decades. He was the first host of the Lazy Bill Lucas Show on KFAI and cut three LP’s during the late 60's and early 70's. He remained active right up to his death on December 11, 1982. His "I Had A Dream" was an update of Sylvester Weaver's 1927 number "Devil Blues":

I had a dream I was sleeping, found myself way down below (2x)
I couldn't get to heaven, you know the place I had to go

The Devil had me cornered, stuck me with his old pitch fork (2x)
He put me in an oven, had me for roast pork

Lucas was a witty song smith as he further proved in "She Got Me Walking" as he name drops his blues buddies:

I don't want to see Snook, not even Homesick James
The way my baby left me, I really believe he's to blame

We close out with a quartet of tough sides by J.B. Hutto.  Slide guitarist J.B. Hutto was born in Blackville, South Carolina, on April 26, 1926. He came to Chicago with his family in 1949. Hutto had originally sung in a gospel group, and played drums, but after arriving in Chicago he taught himself guitar. He formed his band, the Hawks, with "Earring" George Mayweather on harp, Joe Custom on second guitar, and Eddie "Porkchop" Hines on drums or washboard. Hutto's first sides on Chance, recorded in either January or February, represent an extraordinary debut. One of our selections, "Price of Love", was unissued at the time and made a belated appearance on a Delta Swing LP in the 1970's. Hutto did not get on record again until 1965, when he was picked up by Vanguard for its Chicago Blues compilation series; he went on to make the classic Hawk Squat for Delmark in 1967.