Entries tagged with “John Lee Hooker”.


ARTISTSONGALBUM
Sticks McGhee One Monkey Don't Stop The ShowSticks McGhee 1947-1951
Jimmy "Babby Face" LewisLet's Get Together And Make Some Love Jimmy "Baby Face" Lewis 1947-1955
Lawyer Houston Lawyer Houston BluesTexas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A.
Lawyer Houston Dallas Bepop BluesTexas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A.
Lawyer Houston Western Rider Blues Texas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A.
Big Joe TurnerThe Chill Is On Rhythm & Blues Years
Big Joe TurnerBump Miss SusieRhythm & Blues Years
Jimmy YanceyMake Me A Pallet On The FloorChicago Piano Vol. 1
Jimmy YanceyMonkey Woman Blues Chicago Piano Vol. 1
Little Brother MontgomeryTalkin' BluesBlues Piano: Chicago Plus
Little Brother MontgomeryVicksburg Blues '51Blues Piano: Chicago Plus
Meade "Lux" LewisMr. Freddie's Blues Boogie-Woogie Interpretations
Meade "Lux" LewisRiff boogieBlues Piano: Chicago Plus
Frank 'Sweet' WilliamsSweet's Slow Blues Blues Piano: Chicago Plus
Sticks McGhee Meet You in the MorningSticks McGhee 1947-1951
Ray CharlesRoll With Me BabyPure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Ray CharlesJumpin' in the Mornin'Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Big Joe TurnerBaby, I Still Want YouClassic Hits 1938-1952
Big Joe TurnerSweet Sixteen Classic Hits 1938-1952
Chuck NorrisLet Me KnowMessing With The Blues
Chuck NorrisMessin' UpMessing With The Blues
Ray CharlesLosing HandPure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Ray CharlesMr. Charles BluesPure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Big Joe TurnerTV MamaRhythm & Blues Years
Big Joe TurnerMarried Woman Rhythm & Blues Years
Professor LonghairTipitina The Complete 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
Professor LonghairBall The Wall The Complete 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings
John Lee HookerGuitar Lovin' ManDetroit Special
John Lee HookerReal, Real GoneDetroit Special
John Lee HookerPouring Down RainDetroit Special
Little Johnny JonesChicago Blues Blues Piano: Chicago Plus
Little Johnny JonesDoin' The Best I CanBlues Piano: Chicago Plus
Little Johnny JonesHoy Hoy Blues Piano: Chicago Plus

Show Notes:

My two-part feature on Atlantic Records was partly inspired by a terrific reissue series that was originally issued in the early 1970's. In the early 70's Pete Lowry convinced Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertegun to reissue some classic and previously unissued blues from the vaults (read the article below for more background). The plan was to issue twelve albums although only six saw the light of day.I was first heard this series at my college radio station which luckily had the complete set and were much played. This was a great series featuring excellent recordings by Blind Willie McTell, Lawyer Houston, Professor Longhair, Little Brother Montgomery, Jimmy Yancey, T-Bone Walker and others. The albums had excellent liner notes and packaged with wonderful photos in a gatefold album. We feature a number of these recordings on today's programs as well as a wealth of great recordings from Atlantic's, early years spanning the years 1950 through 1953. Our second feature on Atlantic Records focuses less on R&B and more on blues: featured today are several artists that appeared on those Atlantic reissue albums including Lawyer Houston,  Jimmy Yancey, Little Brother Montgomery, Meade Lux Lewis, Frank 'Sweet' Williams, Professor Longhair and John Lee Hooker.

I first heard Lawyer Houston on an Atlantic LP Texas Guitar: From Dallas To L.A. Until recently nothing was known about him. Sometime before June 7th 1950, when Atlantic bought them, he recorded eight titles at Jim Beck's studio on Ross Avenue, Dallas. Beck was also from Marshall, so that may have been a factor. He cut another session in autumn 1953 in L.A. Two songs were issued from the Dallas session, the first as by Lawyer Houston, the second as by Soldier Boy Houston. In “Western Rider Blues” he sings “My name is Lawyer Houston and I'm a Private First Class” which turns out to be true.

Houston was born in Marshall, Texas in 1917. He was inducted into the army in 1941 and served until 1946. He re-enlisted two months later and served until 1961. His songs “In The Army Since 1941” and “Lawton, Oklahoma Blues” are loosely autobiographical accounts of his time in the Philippines and Fort Sill near Lawton. As writer Neal Slavin notes: “Apart from their unusually informative lyrics, Houston's songs are notable for the springy rhythms with which he accompanies himself. In essence, his style is close to that of Lil' Son Jackson… …Two further songs,'Out In California Blues' and 'Going To The West Coast', were prophetic; in the former, Houston announces his intention of going to Los Angeles' Central Avenue to stay at the Hotel Dunbar, after which 'I'm going out to Hollywood and become a movie star'. The move took place but the Army intervened. They needed him in Korea, where war broke out on June 25, 1950. At his second and Iast recording session, “Far East Blues” and “Leavin' Korea” indicate a familiarity with Korea and Japan which in this artist's case is virtual proof of his presence there." Circa 1953/1954 Houston cut eight sides for the Hollywood label in Los Angeles with the sessions purchased by King Records. The sides were never issued and have been reissued for the first time, this year on the 2-CD Hollywood Blues on the JSP label. Houston's military service ended in December 1961 and he spent the rest of his Iife in various Californian communities, ending up in Lancaster, where he worked as a custodian at the California State Museum. He died of pulmonary disease on December 3, 1999. Houston's life story can be found in Blues & Rhythm magazine issue 215 written by Guido Van Rijn and Chris Smith.

Suffering from diabetes later in life, Jimmy Yancey and his wife held parties and jam sessions at their South Side Chicago apartment to raise money. Those sessions were well attended by Chicago jazz fans, and Yancey returned to the recording studio to make new records for the Paramount label in 1950 and his final for Atlantic in 1951 with his wife, Estelle Mama Yancey handling some of the vocal chores. He died on September 17, 1951. His final sides appeared on the album Chicago Piano Vol. 1.

The album Blues Piano:-Chicago, Plus featured sides by Little Brother Montgomery , Frank 'Sweet' Williams and Little Johnny Jones. In the 1950's there was sporadic recording activity, for Little Brother Montgomery even if there were few issued records to show for it at the time: a 1951 session for Atlantic with drummer Frank ‘Sweet’ Williams, two 1953 sides for JOB and two sessions in 1954 and 1956 only four tracks were issued, on a ten-inch LP on the Winding Ball label and five rare sides cut for the Chicago label, Ebony, in 1956. Frank 'Sweet' Williams was a minor Chicago blues musician who's only recordings were two songs cut for Atlantic in 1951 which remained unissued until the issued on the anthology Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus. It is assumed he was brought to the studio by Montgomery. He may be the uncredited drummer on Montgomery's session recorded on the same day. Meade Lux Lewis cut an album for Atlantic in 1951 titled Boogie-Woogie Interpretations with "Riff Boogie" reissued  on Chicago Piano: Chicago Plus.

Best known for his rock steady accompaniment in Elmore James’ band, Little Johnny Jones,  he also backed just about everyone else worth mentioning on the Chicago scene. The handful of times he stepped in front as leader produced a number of excellent sides and more than a few classics. Jones last official stint as leader came in 1953 when Atlantic Records came through Chicago and teamed Elmore and the Broomdusters behind Big Joe Turner resulting in the classic "TV Mama." Once again he recorded a couple of sides at the tail end of a session resulting in four songs: "Chicago Blues", 'Hoy Hoy', "Wait Baby" and "Doin' the Best I Can (Up the line)." Jones was backed by the full Broomdusters plus Ransom Knowling on bass.

Others heard from today include John Lee Hooker, Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles and Chuck Norris. Hooker recorded twelve sides for Atco Records in 1953 which was a  division of Atlantic Records. These sides were issued on the album Detroit Special in in 1972. Hooker is backed by Eddie Kirkland on this session.

In 1951, while performing with the Count Basie Orchestra at Harlem's Apollo Theater Big Joe Turner was spotted by Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegün, who signed him to Atlantic Records. Turner recorded a number of successes for them that climbed the R&B charts including "Chains of Love", "Sweet Sixteen, "Boogie Woogie Country Girl", "Honey Hush" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll." I first heard many of these sides on an excellent double album called Big Joe Turner: Rhythm & Blues Years.

John Lee Hooker: Guitar Lovin' ManIn 1950, Ray Charles' performance in a Miami hotel would impress Henry Stone, who went on to record a Ray Charles. After that he joined Swing Time Records, he recorded two more R&B hits under the name "Ray Charles": "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand" (1951), which reached number five; and "Kissa Me Baby"(1952), which reached number eight. Swing Time folded the following year, and Ahmet Ertegün signed him to Atlantic Records.

Chuck Norris worked in Chicago until the mid-'40s, when he moved out to the West Coast. He soon became one of the in-demand musicians in Hollywood backing artists such as Ray Agee, Charles Brown, Floyd Dixon, Roy Hawkins, Duke Henderson, Helen Humes, Etta James, Pete Johnson, Little Willie Littlefield, Percy Mayfield, Johnny Otis, Johnny Watson, Jimmy Witherspoon and many others. From time to time he did sessions on his own for labels like Atlantic, Mercury, Imperial, Aladdin and others between 1947 and 1953.

Oddenda & Such No. 15 by Pete Lowry (Blues & Rhythm no. 138, Apr1l, 1999)

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Jelly Roll Morton Mamie's BluesNew Orleans Blues 1923-1940
Sidney BechetSidney's Blues New Orleans Blues 1923-1940
John Lee HookerT.B.'s Killin' MeAlternative Boogie: Early Studio Recordings 1948-1952
Sonny Boy Williamson Lord Oh Lord Blues The Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol.1
Brownie McGheeI'm Talking About ItCountry Blues Troubadours 1938-1948
Ida CoxBlues Ain't Nothin' Else But! Vaudeville Blues 1919-1941
Grant & Wilson Scoop ItVaudeville Blues 1919-1941
Big John Greer Confusion BluesRockin' with Big John.
Slim HarpoStop Working BluesBuzzin' The Blues
Clarence Samuels Somebody Gotta GoHowling on Dowling: R&B from Houston 1947-1951
Wynonie Harris Wynonie's Unissued BluesDon't You Want To Rock: The King & DeLuxe Acetate Series
Charlie Spand Back To The Woods The Best of Charlie Spand
Kokomo ArnoldBack To The Woods The Essential
Walter DavisMove Back To The Woods Walter Davis Vol. 7 1946-52
Isiah Chattman Cold In Hand Blues High Water Blues
Frankie Lee SimsMy Home Ain't Here Walking With Frankie:
Unissued cuts from 1960
William 'Do Boy' Diamond Mississippi Flat Blues At Home Vol. 13
Hammie NixonYellow Yam Blues Blues At Home Vol. 12
Pinetop Johnson Tommy Dorsey Boogie Blues At Home Vol. 6
Marylin Scott I Got What My Daddy Likes I Got What My Daddy Likes
Marylin Scott Another Woman's Man I Got What My Daddy Likes
Marylin Scott I Want To Die Easy I Got What My Daddy Likes
Charles Brown Changeable Woman BluesThe Classic Earliest Recordings
Amos Milburn Rocky Road BluesThe Complete Aladdin Recordings 1946-1957
Blind Blake Hard Road Blues All The Published Sides
Willie Baker Crooked Woman Blues Charley Lincoln 1927-1930
Big Time Sarah Got To See My BabyLong Tall Daddy

Show Notes: 

Read Liner Notes

I originally had a theme show planned for today but found out that the station will be using some of my time for live remotes of the Rochester Jazz Festival. Despite the shortened airtime a good show today including some fine down home blues from the 60's and 70's, several excellent blues ladies from the pre-war and post-war eras and several superb blues singers.

Today's featured blues ladies include Ida Cox, Coot Grant, Marylin Scott and Big Time Sarah. Ida Cox ran away from home in 1910 when she was a teenager and performed in minstrel and tent shows as a comedienne and singer. She worked her why into vaudeville and eventually became a headliner. She toured the country throughout the teens and 1920's. In 1923 she began her recording contract with the Paramount label, who billed her as the Uncrowned Queen of the Blues. Between September 1923 and October 1929, Cox recorded a total of 78 titles for Paramount.

Coot Grant was the main stage name of Leola B. Pettigrew, whose legal name became Leola Wilson following her marriage to performing partner Wesley Wilson. The pair met and began performing together in 1905 and were wed in 1913. Coot had been involved in show business since she was a child, beginning as a dancer in vaudeville. Her husband, who played both piano and organ, was performing as early as 1905. He performed under a variety of stage names including Catjuice Charlie in a duo with Pigmeat Pete, as well as Kid Wilson, Jenkins, Socks, and Sox Wilson. The husband and wife, billed as Grant & Wilson, Kid & Coot, and Hunter & Jenkins, cut over sixty sides between 1925 and 1938, often backed with top jazz artists

Little is known about Marylin Scott or Mary Deloatch, she recorded under both names as well as Marylin Scott the Carolina Blues Girl. She may have been from Charlotte, North Carolina or Norfolk, Virginia, and did some local recording in the mid-40’s then in 1950 for the new independent label, Muse Records. The songs for Muse were "Straighten Him Out" and "Another Woman's Man." Scott then moved to Savoy Records where she recorded with the Johnny Otis band cutting "Uneasy Blues" and "Beer Bottle Boogie" released on Savoy's subsidiary label, Regent Records. In 1951 she cut several gospel numbers for Regent as well as a few final gospel numbers for Savoy. She was still active in gospel music as late as 1967, cutting a 45 that year for Arctic under the name Mary De Loach, "Move This Thing Part I b/w Move This Thing Part II", delivering a powerhouse gospel performance. It's a shame this has not been reissued. In the 1980’s the Whiskey, Women, and… label issued the album I Got What My Daddy Likes: The Uneasy Blues of Marylin Scott that collected all her early recordings. These sides have also been issued on the Document CD Carolina Blues & Gospel 1949-1951.

Sarah Streeter, known as Big Time Sarah, passed away June 13th at the age of 62. She was born in Coldwater, Mississippi, and raised in Chicago, where she sang in gospel choirs in South Chicago churches. Her experience playing with Sunnyland Slim led to her first solo release, a single released on his label, Airways Records. She went on to record several records for Dlemark. Our closing track, "Go To See My Baby", features Sunnyland Slim and comes from the album Long Tall Daddy on the Arcola label collecting tracks from a 1976 session.

Big Time Sarah & Sunnyland Slim
Big Time Sarah and Sunnyland Slim, photo by
Bob West from the CD Long Tall Daddy

We spin some excellent field recording from the 1960's and 70's with recordings captured by Giambattista Marcucci and David Evans. On December 1972, with the help of harmonica player Hammie Nixon, using a professional portable equipment, Giambattista Marcucci started recording blues in Memphis and continued in July 1976, ending in July 1982. A series of informal sessions was held during the course of my five trips through Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana, featuring well known, but also little known, and unknown musicians. This material has now been issued as the 16-volume Blues At Home series. The series is currently available digitally but will be soon issued on CD. I’ll be doing a two-part show on these recordings in the next month or so.

From the album High Water Blues, we hear Isiah Chattman's "Cold In Hand Blues." The recordings on this album were captured by David Evans between 1965 and 1970, mainly in Louisiana and Mississippi and issued on the Flyright label in 1974.

We hear from several fine blues singers today including tracks by Big John Greer and Wynonie Harris who share some recording history together. Greer was fine sax man and singer who played on a terrific number of records for RCA Victor and its Groove subsidiary from 1949 to 1955 and for King between 1956 and 1957. Greer blew some mighty sax as a session artist, most notably on sides by Wynonie Harris. He cut several fine R&B numbers under his own name. In the early 1990's Bear Family issued a 3-CD set titled Rockin' with Big John. Our featured Wynonie Harris song, "Wynonie's Unissued Blues", comes from an excellent reissue on Ace called Don't You Want To Rock: The King & DeLuxe Acetate Series. The 2-CD set includes a CD of some of his best known cuts plus an entire CD of alternates, all mastered from new transfers from the original acetates.

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
John Lee HookerGreat Fire Of NatchezNewport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues
John Lee HookerBus Station Blues Newport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues
Mississippi Fred McDowell, Annie Mae McDowell & Rev. Robert WilkinsWhat Do You Think About JesusBlues With A Feeling
Mississippi Fred McDowellLord I'm Going Down SouthThe Blues at Newport 1964
Rev. Gary DavisSamson and DelilahRev. Gary Davis At Newport
Rev. Gary DavisYou Got to Move Rev. Gary Davis At Newport
Mississippi John HurtSpikedriver Blues Newport Folk Festival 1963
Mississippi John HurtStagolee Newport Folk Festival 1963
Mississippi John HurtTrouble, I've Had It All My Days Live Oberlin College & Newport '63
Skip JamesSick Bed BluesBlues At Newport 1964
Skip JamesHard Time Killing Floor Blues Newport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues
Son House Death Letter BluesNewport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues
Son House Son's BluesBlues With A Feeling
Son House w/ Mance LipscombPony BluesGreat Bluesmen Newport
Muddy WatersWalkin' Blues Blues With A Feeling
Muddy WatersFlood Newport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues
Muddy WatersI'm Your Hoochie Coochie ManAt Newport 1960
Doc Reese Hey RattlerThe Blues at Newport 1964
Elizabeth CottonFreight trainThe Blues at Newport 1964
Mance LipscombFreddieBlues With A Feeling
Lightnin' HopkinsMojo Hand Live At Newport
Jesse FullerSan Francisco Bay BluesBlues With A Feeling
Jesse FullerDouble Double Do Love YouNewport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues
Robert Pete WilliamsThe Prodigal SonThe Prodigal Son
Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry Key To The HighwayBlues At Newport 1963
Sleepy John EstesCleanup At HomeBlues at Newport
Howlin' Wolf Dust My BroomDevil Got My Woman: Blues at Newport 1966
Howlin' Wolf Meet Me In The BottomDevil Got My Woman: Blues at Newport 1966

Show Notes:

Robert Wilkins Newport 1964
Rev. Robert Wilkins, Newport, 1964

The Newport Folk Festival is an annual folk-oriented music festival in Newport, Rhode Island, which began in 1959 as a counterpart to the previously established Newport Jazz Festival. The Newport Folk Festival was founded in 1959 by George Wein, founder of the already-well-established Newport Jazz Festival, backed by its original board: Theodore Bikel, Oscar Brand, Pete Seeger and Albert Grossman. The festival in its initial guise ran from 1959 to 1970, with no festivals scheduled in 1961 or 1962. The festival was revived in 1985. The festival's beginning in 1959 parallel the blues revival period and all of the great rediscovered bluesman appeared at the festival. The first bluesmen to appear at the festival were Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee in 1959. Others who performed at Newport include Muddy Waters, who issued a live album of their 1960 performance, John Lee Hooker, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Rev. Robert Wilkins, Sleepy John Estes, Robert Pete Williams, Lightnin' Hopkins and many others. Today is part two of or look at the great blues performances of Newport in particular chronological order. The following information comes from the book Blues Music in the Sixties A Story in Black and White by Urlich Adelt.

"Even during the hiatus of folk song enthusiasm in the 1950s, a small group of connoisseurs kept promoting the music and helped to prepare for the full-scale folk revival between 1958 and 1965. 20 The folk music magazine Sing Out! was launched in 1950 as a small-scale operation and would grow into a formidable publication in the 1960s. Harry Smith’s six-disc Anthology of American Folk Music, which featured commercial recordings of blues, gospel, and string band music from the 1920s and 1930s, came out on Folkways in 1952 and would serve as an inspiration for many emerging folk musicians in the 1960s and as an impetus to rediscover the musicians featured on the recordings.

The Newport Folk Festival was one of the main catalysts of the 1960's folk revival. The showcasing of rediscovered blues artists, in particular in the years between 1963 and 1965, aptly demonstrates the emergence of a distinctive white blues fan culture that drew from notions of folk authenticity developed in nineteenth-century Europe and refined by the folk revivalists. …The Newport Folk Festival also revealed a particular form of antimodern blues purism, which entailed a nostalgic rediscovery of and hunt for prewar black musicians. This purism would eventually clash with the diluted but not necessarily less racialist white notions of blues authenticity represented by the plugging in of Mike Bloomfield and others.

Howlin' Wolf Newport 1966
Howlin Wolf with Hubert Sumlin on Guitar,
Newport Folk Festival (1966) by David Gahr

Although the first two Newport Folk Festivals in 1959 and 1960 were financial disasters, they drew about twelve thousand people each, an impressive number for the time. …The financial problems of both the jazz and the folk festival and the raucous crowds at the jazz festival in 1960 forced the organizers to cancel the folk festival in 1961 and 1962. …After the two-year hiatus, the Newport Folk Festival became a nonprofit operation in 1963. Among the board members of the newly established Newport Folk Foundation were George Wein, Pete Seeger, and Alan Lomax. The foundation’s mission was 'to promote and stimulate interest in the arts associated with folk music.' In addition to organizing the festival, this included fostering folk music and material culture in the field and in schools. Ralph Rinzler, another member of the board of directors, worked as talent and folklore coordinator and would seek out potential performers for the festival in rural regions of the United States and Canada.In an attempt to democratize the festival, each participant would receive a standard fee of fifty dollars (regardless of popularity) as well as travel and food reimbursements. The directors invited a larger number of amateur musicians, more women and musicians from a wider musical spectrum.

Interestingly, although the blues was racially coded as black or of black origin at Newport, much of the music in question was a nostalgic rehash of styles dating back to the 1920s and 1930s fraught with essentialist notions of blackness, and therefore few black people attended the concerts. Blues performers had only represented a small part of the lineup at the first two Newport Folk Festivals, but they became one of the major attractions in the years between 1963 and 1965 and contributed to a genre that fans could separate from folk music."

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ARTISTSONGALBUM
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee My Baby Done Changed The Lock On The Door Newport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues 1959-1968
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee Long GoneNewport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues 1959-1968
Willie Thomas and Butch Cage 44 BluesThe Folk Music Of The Newport Folk Festival 1959-60 Vol. 1
John Lee Hooker TupeloNewport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues 1959-1968
John Lee Hooker Hobo BluesThe Newport Folk Festival 1960 Vol. 1
Mississippi Fred McDowellHighway 61The Blues at Newport 1964
Mississippi Fred McDowellIf The River Was Whiskey The Blues at Newport 1964
Sleepy John EstesDrop Down Mama Blues At Newport 1964
Robert Pete WilliamsOn My Way From TexasBlues At Newport 1964
Mississippi John HurtSliding DeltaBlues At Newport 1964
Mississippi John HurtTalking CaseyBlues At Newport 1964
Mississippi John HurtCoffee BluesNewport Folk Festival 1963: The Evening Concert Vol. 1
Skip James Going Back to the CountryDarling, Do You Remember Me?Going Back to the Country
Skip James Cypress Grove Blues Blues At Newport 1964
Skip James Devil Got My WomanBlues At Newport 1964
Lightnin' HopkinsBaby Please Don't GoLightnin' Hopkins At Newport
Wilie DossCoal Black Mare Blues At Newport 1964
Wilie DossHobo BluesBlues At Newport 1964
Son House Preaching Blues Blues With A Feeling
Son House Empire state Express Blues With A Feeling
Lafayette Leake & Willie DixonWrinklesBlues With A Feeling
Otis Spann Goodbye Newport BluesAt Newport 1960
Muddy WatersSoon Forgotten At Newport 1960
Muddy WatersI Got My Brand On YouAt Newport 1960
Robert Wilkins Don't You Let Nobody Turn You RoundBlues With A Feeling
Robert Wilkins The Prodigal SonThe Prodigal Son

Show Notes:

Mississippi John Hurt performs at the Newport Folk Festival in July, 1964

 

The Newport Folk Festival is an annual folk-oriented music festival in Newport, Rhode Island, which began in 1959 as a counterpart to the previously established Newport Jazz Festival. The Newport Folk Festival was founded in 1959 by George Wein, founder of the already-well-established Newport Jazz Festival, backed by its original board: Theodore Bikel, Oscar Brand, Pete Seeger and Albert Grossman. The festival in its initial guise ran from 1959 to 1970, with no festivals scheduled in 1961 or 1962. The festival was revived in 1985. The festival's beginning in 1959 parallel the blues revival period and all of the great rediscovered bluesman appeared at the festival. The first bluesmen to appear at the festival were Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee in 1959. Others who performed at Newport include Muddy Waters, who issued a live album of their 1960 performance, John Lee Hooker, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Rev. Robert Wilkins, Sleepy John Estes, Robert Pete Williams, Lightnin' Hopkins and many others. Today is part one of or look at the great blues performances of Newport in particular chronological order.

All of the great rediscovered bluesman performed at Newport; John Hurt was tracked down in Avalon, Mississippi, Bukka White in Aberdeen, Mississippi, Skip James was found in Mississippi's Tunica Hospital while Son House was residing in Rochester, New York. Eric Von Schmidt recalled the scene when Skip James took to the stage in his book Baby Let Me Follow You Down: "Skip sat down, and put his guitar on his leg. He set himself down, doing a little finger manipulation with his left hand, then he set his fingers by the sound hole. Sighed and hit the first note of I'd Rather Be the Devil Than Be That Woman's Man. He took that first note up in falsetto all the way, and the hairs on the neck went up, and all up and down my arms, the hairs just went right up. It's such an eerie note. It's almost a wail. It's a cry. There was an audible gasp from the audience."

Skip James recorded a legendary session for Paramount Records in 1931 then vanished for 33 years leaving no trail to follow. Just another blues man who had come and gone. He was tracked down and found in the Tunica, MS, hospital and then brought north to appear at the 964 Newport Folk Festival.

In Baby Let Me Follow You Down Schmidt recalled his memories of the festival: "I was listening to Mississippi John Hurt sing Spike Driver Blues. It was unreal, John Hurt was dead. Had to be. All the guys on that Harry Smith Anthology were dead. But there was no denying that the man singing so sweet and playing so beautifully was the John Hurt. He had a face – and what a face. He had a hat that he wore like a halo."

In 1963, a folk musicologist, Tom Hoskins, supervised by Richard Spottswood, was able to locate Hurt near Avalon, Mississippi. While in Avalon, Hoskins convinced Hurt to perform several songs for him, to ensure that he was genuine. Hoskins was convinced, and seeing that Hurt's guitar playing skills were still intact, Hoskins encouraged him to move to Washington, D.C., and begin performing on a wider stage. His performance at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival saw his star rise amongst the new folk revival audience.

 Skip James performs at the Newport Folk
Festival in July, 1964 (photo by Rick Staehling)

Robert Wilkins cut one of the great albums of the blues revival, Memphis Gospel Singer, recorded in 1964 for the Piedmont label but perhaps because he refused to play blues his part in the 60's revival is sometimes neglected. Wilkins hit the folk circuit, appearing at Newport in 1964 and the Memphis Country Blues Festival in 1966 and 1968. Even after the Rolling Stones covered "Prodigal Son" Wilkins steadfastly refused to play the blues. At the 1964 festival Wilkins delivered an epic nine minute version of "Prodigal Son", showing, that if anything, his playing was better than ever.

Other bluesmen weren't so much rediscovered as simply exposed; Mance Lipscomb was a gifted songster and slide guitarist who was born in 1895, who played at local functions around Navasota, Texas and did not make his debut recording until 1960. Lightin' Hopkins, another Texan had been recording since the 40's when he arrived at Newport. Mississippi McDowell was discovered by Alan Lomax in 1959 and recorded several albums before playing Newport in 1964. In 1956, Robert Pete Williams shot and killed a man in a local club and was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in  Angola prison. He served two years before being discovered by folklorists Dr. Harry Oster and Richard Allen. The pair recorded Williams performing several of his own songs and helped Williams receive a pardon in 1959. For the first five years after he left prison, Williams could only perform in Louisiana, but made several albums. In 1964, Williams played his first concert outside of Louisiana, at the Newport Folk Festival. The cuts recorded of Willie Doss at Newport in 1964 are the only recordings that were ever released of his music. Doss was born in Cleveland, Mississippi, but discovered living in Ashford, Alabama by folklorist Ralph Rinzler.

Successful urban bluesmen like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, faced with a diminishing market for blues in the black market, saw the festival as a way to attract a whole new audience. At Newport 1960 was released by Muddy Waters after his appearance. When Muddy’s band played the Newport Folk Festival in 1960, Otis Spann sang "Goodbye Newport Blues" which appeared on the subsequent live album. The song was written by poet Langston Hughes in response to a riot that happened at the festival the day before.

Performers were paid just $50 to appear at Newport, but careers were made on this main stage. Dick Waterman who became a booking agent and business adviser to many of the rediscovered bluesmen recalled: "It's important to remember that the record companies were well represented at the festival. You only had about fifteen minutes to play, but if you performed really well in those few minutes, as you turned from the microphone and left the stage, you just might be greeted by John Hammond of Columbia, or Maynard Solomon of Vanguard, or Jac Holzman of Elektra. There were no lawyers or middlemen involved. The guy who made the decision at the record company was there to make a deal."

 

 

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