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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