ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Easy Baby Good Morning Mr. Blues Grab Me Another Half Pint
Easy Baby So Tired Sweet Home In Chicago
Easy Baby Madison Street Boogie Sweet Home In Chicago
Kansas City Red Standing Around CryingOriginal Chicago Blues
Kansas City Red K.C. Red's In TownGrab Me Another Half Pint
Big John Wrencher Tell Me Darling 45
Big John Wrencher Trouble Makin' Woman 45
Big John Wrencher Runnin' Wild 45
Joe Carter It Hurts Me Too Mean & Evil Blues
Joe Carter I'm WorriedMean & Evil Blues
Kansas City Red Lula Mae Old Friends
Kansas City Red Lightnin' Struck The Poor House Old Friends
Easy Baby Last Night Sweet Home In Chicago
Easy Baby Call Me Easy Baby If It Ain't One Thing, It's Another
Easy Baby If It Ain't One Thing, It's Another If It Ain't One Thing, It's Another
Kansas City Red Moon Is Rising Down On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis 2
Kansas City Red Mean Black SpiderOriginal Chicago Blues
Big John Wrencher Maxwell Street Alley Blues Maxwell Street Alley Blues
Big John Wrencher Can't Hold Out Much Longer And This Is Maxwell Street
Big John Wrencher I'm A Root Man Big John's Boogie
Joe Carter Anna LeeThat Ain't Right
Joe Carter Treat Me The Way You Do Mean & Evil Blues
Easy Baby She's 19 Years Old Sweet Home In Chicago
Easy Baby You Gonna Miss Me Sweet Home In Chicago
Big John Wrencher Conductor Took My Baby To Tennessee Maxwell Street Alley Blues
Big John Wrencher Rockin' Chair Blues Maxwell Street Alley Blues
Big John Wrencher Rough/Tough Boogie Maxwell Street Alley Blues
Chicago String Band w/ Big John Wrencher Don't Sic Your Dog On Me Chicago String Band

Show Notes:

Easy Baby: Sweet Home Chicago
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On today's program we spotlight a quartet of fine, if unheralded, bluesman who were active on the Chicago blues scene of the 1960's and 1970's Today we spotlight two superb harmonica men: Easy Baby and Big John Wrencher. Easy Baby was singing and playing the blues since the 50's, first in Memphis then Chicago, but didn't make his recorded debut until the mid-70's. He cut a small but impressive legacy which we feature today. Wrencher cut a few scattered sides in the 60's before making a a terrific album in 1969 and some strong sides in the 70's Much less documented on record are singer/drummer Kansas City Red who snag with Robert Nighthawk in the 40's but cut only a handful of sides staring in the 70's. Joe Carter was a powerful Elmore James inspired guitarist who cut a lone record in 1975 and a few other scattered sides. The artists featured today worked together in various combinations, all recorded in the 70's for George Paulus' Barrelhouse label and none achieved much in the way of star billing.

Alex “Easy Baby” Randle was born in Memphis in 1934. Both his grandmother and uncle were harmonica players. Easy Baby began playing professionally around Memphis as a teenager while doing odd jobs. Playing in the gambling houses and juke joints he befriended Howlin' Wolf, James Cotton, Joe Hill Louis and others. In 1956 he moved to Chicago and throughout the 50's, 60's and 70's played all over the Windy City while working as a mechanic.

Not long after Easy Baby wen to Chicago he meet his idol, Littltle Walter, at Ricky’s Show Lounge. After sitting in with Walter the two became friends and Walter showed him quite a bit on harp. Easy did a stint with Muddy Waters and had his own band which usually included Smokey Smothers on guitar,Baby Dimples on drums and George Austin on guitar. Over the years the personnel changed and included Jo Jo Williams and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Between 1962 and 1974 he worked in a band with guitarist “Big Red” Smith on Chicago’s West Side.

Easy Baby’s first recording appeared on the anthology Low Blows: An Anthology of Chicago Harmonica Blues with another track appearing on the anthology Bring Me Another Half-A-Pint. His full-length debut was Sweet Home Chicago issued on George Paulus' Barrelhouse label in 1977 with the band consisting of Eddie Taylor, el g; Mac Thompson, b; Kansas City Red, dr. Easy performed at the 1998 and 2000 Chicago Blues Festivals and recorded one more superb album, If It Ain't One Thing, It's Another for Wolf in 2000.He recorded a few more sides in 2001 that appeared on the anthology Harmonica Blues Orgy on the Random Chance label. He passed in 2009.

Big John Wrencher: Maxwell Street Alley BluesJohn Thomas Wrencher was born in Sunflower, Mississippi. He became interested in music as a child, and taught himself to play harmonica at an early age, and from the early 1940's was working as an itinerant musician in Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois. By the mid 1940's he had arrived in Chicago and was playing on Maxwell Street and at house parties with Jimmy Rogers, Claude "Blue Smitty" Smith and John Henry Barbee. In the 1950's he moved to Detroit, where he worked with singer/guitarist Baby Boy Warren, and formed his own trio to work in the Detroit and Clarksdale, Mississippi areas.

In 1958 Wrencher lost his left arm as a result of a car accident outside Memphis, Tennessee. By the early 1960's he had settled in Chicago, where he became a fixture on Maxwell Street Market, in particular playing from 10am to 3pm on Sundays. In 1964 he appeared in a documentary film about Maxwell Street, titled And This Is Free; performances by Wrencher recorded in the process of making the film were eventually issued on the three CD set And This Is Maxwell Street.

During the 1960's Wrencher recorded for the Testament label backing Robert Nighthawk, and as part of the Chicago String Band. In 1969 he recorded for Barrelhouse Records, backed by guitarist Little Buddy Thomas and drummer Playboy Vinson, who formed his Maxwell Street band of the time resulting in the album, Maxwell Street Alley Blues. Wrencher toured Europe with the Chicago Blues Festival in 1973 and with the American Blues Legends in 1974, and during the latter tour recorded an album in London for the Big Bear label, backed by guitarist Eddie Taylor and his band. During a trip to Mississippi to visit his family in July 1977, Wrencher died suddenly of a heart attack in Wade Walton's barber shop in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Arthur Stevenson was born in Drew, Mississippi and owed his Kansas City sobriquet to a brief trip to that city after being rejected from the service in 1942. His first musical inspiration was David “Honeyboy” Edwards and by the early 1940’s he was hanging around with Robert Nighthawk. One night the band’s drummer took ill right before a gig and he offered to fill in despite never having played drums before. He ended up playing drums for Nighthawk until around 1946. After his split with Nighthawk he briefly hooked up with Honeyboy Edwards. He had uncanny knack for hustling gigs and began singing by this period. In the 50’s he formed a band with Earl Hooker and pianist Ernest Lane.

Kansas City Red moved to Chicago in the 50’s, occasionally sitting in with Muddy Waters. He formed a group with Walter Horton that included Johnny Young and Johnny Shines. During this period he played with Robert Lockwood Jr., Eddie Taylor, Jimmy Reed, Floyd Jones, Blind John Davis, Elmore James and others. Starting with the Club Reno, he managed a number of Chicago bars and owned a couple as well.

Bring Me Another Half-a-PintThrough the 70’s and 80’s Kansas City Red held down stints at a number of Chicago clubs. His recorded legacy is slim with a handful of sessions for Barrelhouse, JSP and Earwig. Sides by him appear on the above mentioned anthology,  Bring Me Another Half-A-Pint, a few tracks on the album Original Chicago Blues (the other sides by Joe Carter) and the album called Old Friends featuring Honeyboy Edwards, Walter Horton and Floyd Jones. His last major engagement was at the 1991 Chicago Blues Festival where he finally received some overdue recognition. He died of cancer on his 65th birthday May 7, 1991.

One of the truly great unsung heroes of the Chicago club scene of the 1950's, Joe Carter was a slide-playing disciple of Elmore James. Born in Georgia, Carter came under the early tutelage of local player Lee Willis, who showed the youngster various tunings and how to use a thumb pick. Arriving in Chicago by 1952 it was Muddy Waters who lent Carter the money to purchase his first electric guitar. Shortly thereafter, Joe started up his first group with guitarist Smokey Smothers and Lester Davenport on harmonica, quickly establishing himself as a club favorite throughout Chicago. Sadly, Carter never recorded with this group, or any other configuration, during his heyday. A contract with Cobra Records was offered (with a young Freddie King being added in the studio to his regular group), but Joe declined, as he felt the money would in no way equal what he was pulling down in club work.

Carter didn't end up being documented on record until he returned to active playing in the '70's, recording his lone solo album, Mean & Evil Blues, for the Barrelhouse label in 1976. Other sides appeared on the album Original Chicago Blues  and on an anthology of Ralph Bass recordings titled That Ain't Right. Carter retired from playing in the late '80's after a bout with throat cancer. He died in Chicago in 2001.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Little Hat Jones Bye Bye Baby BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Blind Willie Johnson You'll Need Somebody on Your BondBlind Willie Johnson And The Guitar Evangelists
Willie Brown Future Blues Friends Of Charlie Patton
Charlie Patton Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1Best Of
Blind Willie McTell Love Changing BluesBest Of
Sam Collins My Road Is Rough And Rocky (How Long, How Long?)Jailhouse Blues
Son House Walking BluesLegends of Country Blues
Henry Williams & Eddie AnthonyGeorgia CrawlFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Andy Boy House Raid BluesThe Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937
Cannon's Jug Stompers Going To GermanyMemphis Jug Band and Cannon's Jug Stompers
Lottie Kimbrough Rolling Log BluesThe Return Of The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Weaver & Beasley Bottleneck BluesCountry Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
BluesJim & Bob (The Genial Hawaiians) St. Louis BluesBottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-37
Willie Harris Never Drive a Stranger from Your Door Jackson Blues: 1928-1938
Blind Joe Reynolds Ninety Nine BluesBlues Images Vol. 2
The Sparks Brothers Down On The Levee Down On The Levee: The Piano Blues of St. Louis 2
Pigmeat Terry Black Sheep BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Lee Green Memphis Fives The Way I Feel: The Best Of Roosevelt Sykes And Lee Green
Elizabeth Johnson Be My Kid Blues American Primitive Vol. II
Mattie Delaney Tallahatchie River Blues Blues images Vol. 3
Geeshie Wiley Pick Poor Robin CleanI Can't Be Satisfied Vol 1
Jim Jackson Hesitation Blues Jim Jackson Vol. 2 (928-1930
Mae Glover I Ain't Givin' Nobody NoneI Can't Be Satisfied Vol 1
King David's Jug Band Rising Sun BluesCincinnati Blues
Mattie May Thomas Dangerous BluesAmerican Primitive Vol. II
Charlie Patton Tom RushenPrimeval Blues, Rags, and Gospel Songs
William Harris Bull Frog Blues The Best There Ever Was
Sam Collins Lonesome Road BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Allen Shaw Moanin' The Blues Masters of the Memphis Blues
Shreveport HomewreckersFence Breakin' BluesBottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-37

Show Notes:

Blind Willie McTell: The Early Years
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Today's show is a trip down memory lane for me. I've been going through a bout of nostalgia lately, hopefully not the onset of a mid-life crisis, although I have been eying the red Corvette! Anyway, I've been thinking about my favorite country blues tracks lately, most of which I first heard in my formative years of blues collecting. These are the songs that I never get tired of and ones that I find myself revisiting over the years. This is by no means a “best of” list, just songs that I find myself continuously going back to. Many are considered blues classics, many not, and many are most often not the songs by these artists that are considered their best. There's numerous artists that I revere like Bukka White, Frank Stokes, Henry Thomas, Mississippi John Hurt that are omitted simply for the fact that I can't nail down just one song that does it for me by those artists. As I said many of these tracks I first heard when I first started picking up blues records, over twenty-five years ago (that's a hard number to swallow!). And yes I was buying country blues records back then. It was a very short jump from buying my first blues record, B.B. King – Live At The Regal ($3.99 at Tower Records) to picking up, and almost wearing out the grooves of Blind Willie McTell – The Early Years on my beloved Yazoo label. In fact Yazoo was the label where I discovered many of my favorite country blues tracks on treasured compilations like Mississippi Moaners, Guitar Wizards, Bottleneck Blues Guitar Classics, Lonesome Road Blues and The Voice Of The Blues among others. I knew that the Yazoo office was in Manhattan and I often thought about going over there but I never did – I guess I never really knew what I'd do once I got there! Also hugely influential was the piano blues series on Magpie records which made me a lifelong fan of piano blues. Several tracks from that series can be found on today's show. Still, there are a number of songs that became favorites later, for example Blind Joe Reynolds “Ninety Nine Blues” which was only discovered a few years ago (the consensus seems to be that the “B” side, “Cold Woman Blues”, is the superior track, but for me “Ninety Nine Blues” just kills me). I never did go in for what the consensus says which I suppose is reflected in today's eclectic playlist of  all-time favorites.

I count myself lucky to be living where I was when the blues bug bit me. I lived in the Bronx and it was short hop to Manhattan where there was no shortage of great record stores. I fondly remember prowling  records stores like Finyl Vinyl on Second Ave., St. Marks Records, Venus Records, Bleeker Bob's, Footlight Records and the  Jazz Record Mart (still in business and even after buying records there since I was a teenager the same guy still refuses to cut me a deal!). Then there were the book/magazine shops like Hudson News and See Hear where I could find isues of the great British blues mags like Blues Unlimited (went under right when I discovered it!), Juke Blues and Blues & Rhythm.  Of course there were a number of fine left-of-the-dial radio stations that played plenty of blues. Anyway, below are few reminisces about some of today's selections.

Little Hat Jones cut ten sides at three sessions in 1929 and 1930. All his sides are worthwhile but “Bye Bye Baby Blues” is the best thing he ever did in my opinion. When I was coming up with today’s playlist this is one of the first songs I picked. I probably first heard it on the Yazoo compilation Don't Leave Me Here: The Blues of Texas, Arkansas, & Louisiana 1927-1932.

We spin a pair of my favorite Charlie Patton songs today, "Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1" and "Tom Rushen." I'm not sure exactly what it is with the former song that I find so striking, it's not one often cited when talking about Patton's best, yet I find it incredibly compelling. Patton's vocals on this are magnificent. The 2-part number celebrates a Mississippi river boat that plied between Vicksburg and Memphis. I have to admit that I really fell under Patton's spell much later. I did own the Yazoo double LP Founder of the Delta Blues but the problem for me was that I couldn't get past the terrible sound of those records. Compare that record to the Best Of which came out just a few years back and the difference is like night and day.

I first heard “Love Changing Blues” on Blind Willie McTell – The Early Years on Yazoo. I played the hell out of this record and for whatever reason, it was this song that made a huge impression on me although, of course, I also loved the more famous “Statesboro Blues.” I distinclty remember my college roomate making fun of me for owing a record by a guy named Blind Willie McTell. I never did lecture him, just turned up the record really loud until it drive him out of the room.

Despite the fact that I’m featuring two Sam Collins cuts on today’s show, I can’t really say he’s one of my favorite artists. However the vocal performances on “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” and “Lonesome Road Blues” are magnificent. I first heard these on the Yazoo compilation Lonesome Road Blues: 15 Years in the Mississippi Delta 1926-1941. The song “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” made its first appearance on this compilation and I believed the title was given by Yazoo. How this song could be unreleased boggles my mind.

Country Blues Bottleneck Guitar Classics
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Yes I know, Son House's 1930 sides are acknowledged classics, and rightly so. His epic six minute version of “Walking Blues” from 1941, with a rocking band that included Willie Brown, Fiddlin' Joe Martin and Leroy Williams, is that song that floors me every time and one of my all time favorites.

I guess Texas pianist Andy Boy is an offbeat choice for favorites but his recordings really get to me. Andy Boy had a rough, expressive voice offset with his sprightly blues piano laced with ragtime flourishes. Andy Boy's songs are filled with vivid imagery, humor, clever wordplay and a times a deep pathos. Along with pianist Rob Cooper, Andy Boy plays prominently on the records of Joe Pullum, one of the era's most distinctive and imaginative vocalists. Andy Boy cut only eight sides under his own name as well as backing both Pullum and the obscure Walter 'Cowboy' Washington. I know I first him on Magpie’s The Piano Blues Vol. 8: Texas Seaport 1934-1937. I probably heard Joe Dean on one of the Magpie collections or possibly on Yazoo’s Barrelhouse Blues 1927-1936. I’m pretty sure I heard Cripple Clarence Lofton’s “Gang of Brownskin Women” on Yazoo’s Cripple Clarence Lofton & Walter Davis which sported a great photo of Lofton at the piano snapping his fingers with a huge grin on his face.

Sung by Noah Lewis who also plays the superb harmonica, "Going To Germany", is one of those dreamy blues that puts me in a trance every time I hear it. I'm guessing I first heard it on the double Cannon Jug Stompers album. I miss those great double albums that used to open up. Not quite the same experience with a CD. Lottie Kimbrough’ “Rolling Log Blues” has the same dreamy, haunting quality as “Going To Germany” and a song that always mesmerizes me.

The Yazoo compilation Bottleneck Blues Guitar Classics 1926-37 was an absolute killer. From that compilation comes Jim & Bob’s amazing “St. Louis Blues” as well as the Shreveport Homewreckers’ “Fence Breakin' Blues.”

Willie Harris’ “Never Drive a Stranger from Your Door” is a great bottleneck number. First heard this one on Yazoo’s Jackson Blues 1928-1938.

In November 1929 at the Paramount Recording Studios in Grafton, Wisconsin, four songs were recorded at 78 rpm by a Louisiana street musician named Joe Sheppard who used the name Blind Joe Reynolds. The second record recorded in Wisconsin on that day, "Ninety Nine Blues" backed with "Cold Woman Blues" has been lost since it was first released in October of 1930. No copies in any condition were ever located until just a few years ago. The recorded was eventually bought and reissued on CD by John Tefteller. I guess I’m at odds with collectors Richard Nevins (owner of Yazoo) and Pete Whelan of 78 Quarterly fame who claim "Cold Woman Blues" as the masterpiece, because for me it’s the flip, "Ninety Nine Blues.” What do those guys know anyway!?

It was through the Magpie piano series that I became a lifelong fan of piano blues. I came to the series late, my first purchase was volume 20 and I must have been around 16. The album made a huge impression on me and I even remember exactly where I purchased it; it was at one of my favorite haunts, Tower Records on West 4th St., NYC (the blues section was on the top floor, tucked behind the jazz secton. Often I was the only one back threre, which for me was perfect!). I went back and picked up as many of the rest of the albums I could find and over the years completed the entire series. That particular volume was my introduction to the Sparks Brothers who are still favorites to this day. Milton’s Spark’s high pitched voice and Aaron sensitive piano work really struck a chord, particularly on “Down In The Levee”

Now the obscure Pigmeat Terry was anthologized on one of the Magpie albums although I’m positive I didn't hear his records until much later. Terry only cut one 78 in 1935, a great record, and possessed a high, whispery, moaning voice, a bit reminiscent of the popular Joe Pullum who made his debut the prior year. His "Black Sheep Blues" is a striking tune both vocally and lyrically:

My mother's gone to glory
My father died of drinking in his sins
My sister won't notice me, she's to proud to take me in
I'm a black sheep in my family, and how they dog me around
Someday I'll get lucky and won't be found around

Allen Shaw is another great bluesman cut only one78. He has a powerful voice, somewhat like Son House, and lays down some great slide. Shame he didn’t record more. Shaw also got together on record with Hattie Hart. They engaged in one memorable session in New York, in the late summer of 1934. I heard this side first on Sony’s Slide Guitar Bottles, Knives & Steel Vol. 2 back when the major labels would occasionally issue stuff like this. I’m pretty sure those days are gone.

“Have you ever woke up with them bullfrogs on your mind?” One of the more enigmatic opening blues lines I’ve ever heard and one of the best blues ever by the mysterious William Harris (not the same as the Willie Harris mentioned above).

The Voice Of The Blues
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There were very few recorded guitar playing women blues singers recorded in the pre-war era. Mattie Delaney and Geeshie Wiley are two of the few. Both their records are extremely rare and both woman barley left a trace behind as to who they were. Wiley’s “Last Kind Words” is a masterpiece there’s no doubt, but I find myself returning to her jaunty “Pick Poor Robin Clean” with partner Elvie Thomas.“ I’m not sure where I first heard this and like William Harris’ “Bullfrog Blues” I’m not really sure what the hell the song means.

Elizabeth Johnson is another mystery woman who cut four sides in 1928. “Be My Kid Blues b/w Sobbin’ Woman Blues” is great record.  She’s backed by a unique band (listed as Her Turpentine Tree-O) that consisted of woodblocks, clarinet and guitar.

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. Thomas' “Dangerous Blues” is a haunting, violent and sad song that gives me shivers every time I hear it.:

You keep on talking 'bout the dangerous blues.
If I had a pistol I'd be dangerous too.
Say, you may be a bully, say but I don't know.
But I fix you so you won't give me no trouble in the world I know.
She won't cook no breakfast, she won't wash no clothes.
Say, that woman don't do nothin' but walk the road.
My knee bone hurt me, and my ankle swell.
Says, I may get better but I won't get well.
Say, Mattie had a baby, and she got blues eyes.
Say, must be the captain, he keep on hanging around.
He keep on hanging around, keep on hanging around.

I’m not a huge fan of Jim Jackson but at his very last session in 1930 he cut outstanding versions of “St Louis Blues” and “Hesitation Blues.” Many have covered ““Hesitation Blues” but to me Jackson’s version will always be the definitive one.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Jimmy McCracklin Panic's OnModern Recordings, Vol. 2: Blues Blastin'
Jimmy McCracklin Interview Segment Pt. 1
Jimmy McCracklin Double DealingHigh On The Blues
Jimmy McCracklin Interview Segment Pt. 2
Jimmy McCracklin Come on Home (Back Where You Belong)I Had To Get With It: The Best Of The Imperial & Minit Years
Jimmy McCracklin She Felt Too GoodBlast 'em Dead!
Jimmy McCracklin Every Night, Every DayThe Walk: Jimmy McCracklin at His Best
Jimmy McCracklin Interview Segment Pt. 3
Jimmy McCracklin Blues Blasters BoogieModern Recordings, Vol. 2: Blues Blastin'
Jimmy McCracklin Steppin' Up In ClassI Had To Get With It: The Best Of The Imperial & Minit Years
Jimmy McCracklin Deceivin' The Modern Recordings 1948-1950
Jimmy McCracklin Interview Segment Pt. 4
Jimmy McCracklin I Don't CareI Had to Get with It: The Best of the Imperial & Minit Years
Jimmy McCracklin ThinkI Had To Get With It: The Best Of The Imperial & Minit Years
Jimmy McCracklin Just Got To KnowI Had To Get With It: The Best Of The Imperial & Minit Years
Jimmy McCracklin Interview Segment Pt. 5
Jimmy McCracklin What's Going OnI Had To Get With It: The Best Of The Imperial & Minit Years
Percy Mayfield Strange Things HappeningPoet of the Blues
Percy Mayfield Highway Is Like A WomanPercy Mayfield Sings
Percy Mayfield Stranger In My HometownHis Tangerine and Atlantic Sides
Percy Mayfield My BluesMemory Pain
Percy Mayfield To Me Your Name Is LoveWalking on a Tightrope
Percy Mayfield The Devil Made Me Do ItBlues … And Then Some
Percy Mayfield Please Send Me Someone to LovePoet of the Blues
Percy Mayfield My Jug And IHis Tangerine and Atlantic Sides
Percy Mayfield The Big QuestionPoet of the Blues
Percy Mayfield Lost MindPoet of the Blues
Percy Mayfield My Mind Is Trying To Leave MeWalking on a Tightrope
Percy Mayfield I Don't Want To be PresidentHis Tangerine and Atlantic Sides
Percy Mayfield The River's InvitationPoet of the Blues
Percy Mayfield Weakness Is A Thing Called ManWeakness Is A Thing Called Man

Show Notes:

Today we spotlight two key figures of the post-war West coast scene, Jimmy McCracklin who passed just a few weeks back, and his contemporary, singer Percy Mayfield. In his heyday, from the late 40's through the 60's, Jimmy McCracklin led one of the toughest, hardest rocking blues bands on the West Coast. He was a prolific and witty composer, a fine singer/pianist and along the way scored a number of hits on the charts. Still he remains something of a neglected figure and his stature seems to have always been higher in the black community. It's not hard to see why Percy Mayfield has been so frequently covered and so often mentioned with admiration among his fellow blues singers; he was a master of the moody blues ballad, he had flawless timing and phrasing and as a writer his songs had a frank, penetrating insight into the dark, complex side of the human condition. While his hits were confined to the 50's, Mayfield cut a superb body of work through the 70's.

Jimmy McCracklin: Stinger Man

Jimmy McCracklin grew up in Missouri and spent his formative years in St. Louis. His earliest musical influence was pianist Walter Davis who his father took him to see as a youngster. "He could just shake me up", said McCracklin, "he was beautiful." McCracklin was a promising light heavyweight boxer and starting in 1938 spent time in the Navy during World War II. He left St. Louis and moved to the West Coast in the mid-40's. His first blues efforts were self financed recordings, making his recorded debut for the Globe logo with "Miss Mattie Left Me" in 1945. On that waxing, J.D. Nicholson played piano but afterwards most of McCracklin's output found him handling his own piano chores.

McCracklin formed his own trio, the Blues Blasters, in 1946 along with guitarist Robert Kelton and drummer Little Red. The first records under his own name were issued in 1948 on the Trilon record label with subsequent records issued on a number of tiny L.A. labels such as Down Town before landing with Modern in 1949-50, Swing Time the next year, and Peacock in 1952-54. Gradually the group was enlarged to include a full rhythm section and horns with more emphasis on the beat and plenty of honking sax. Lafayette "Thing" Thomas started playing with the band in the late 40's eventually replacing Kelton and his blistering guitar work would remain a prime ingredient in McCracklin's combo into the early '60s. By the early 50's he had a tight five piece group and was accompanying a variety of West Coast artists while gaining a strong local reputation, particularly at the Club Savoy in Richmond. The club scene was hopping in Oakland, Richmond and San Francisco with popular blues spots like the Rhumboogie, Three Sisters, Esther's Orbit Room, Shelton's Blue Mirror and Club Long Island offering steady employment.

By 1954, the pianist was back with Modern and cut a series of sessions for Bay Area producer Bob Geddins' Irma label in 1956 (many of which later turned up on Imperial). "The Walk," a rudimentary dance number with a good groove was issued on the Chess subsidiary Checker Records in 1958. The song hit big reaching number five on the R&B charts and also cracking the top ten on the pop charts. He left Chess after a few more 45's, stopping briefly at Mercury (where he cut the sizzling "Georgia Slop" in 1959, later revived by Big Al Downing) before forming his own record label in 1961, Art-Tone, scoring a big hit with "Just Got to Know." A similar follow-up, "Shame, Shame, Shame," also did well for him the next year. Those sides eventually resurfaced on Imperial whom he signed onto in 1965. He hit twice in 1965 with "Every Night, Every Day" (later covered by Magic Sam), "Think" and "My Answer" in 1966.Jimmy McCracklin: The Walk

He penned the funky "Tramp" for fellow West Coast bluesman Lowell Fulson who took it to the top of the R&B charts in 1967, only to be eclipsed by a duet cover by Stax stars Otis Redding and Carla Thomas a few months later. McCracklin went on to cut a string of LP's for Imperial, changing his sound just enough to effortlessly slip into the soul era. He signed with Stax Records in 1971 cutting the excellent album Yesterday is Gone, which was released on CD in 1992 as High on the Blues. In the 90's McCracklin recorded a pair of strong records for the Bullseye Blues label and in 1999 cut Tell It to the Judge! on Gunsmoke. He was still performing into the 2000's and I was thrilled when I got a chance to meet him and see him perform at the 2008 Pocono Blues Festival.

It's not hard to see why Percy Mayfield has been so frequently covered and so often mentioned with admiration among his fellow blues singers; he was a master of the moody blues ballad, he had flawless timing and phrasing and as a writer his songs had a frank, penetrating insight into the dark, complex side of the human condition. Songs like "River's Invitation", "Please Send Me Someone To Love", "Life Is Suicide", "My Jug And I" and "Stranger In My Own Home Town', to name just a few, were adult songs for adult listeners, filled with a darkly hued, poetic sensibility, devilish wit and hipster coolness.

As Percy Mayfield told an interviewer "Well, my native home was in Louisiana. I was born in Minden, Louisiana, August the twelfth, 1920. …And I came to California in 42'. I was properly raised in Houston. See, I went everywhere. But I never did anything like show business around there before I came to L.A. I just wanted to be a songwriter. You see, I been singin' all my life, when I was a boy growin' up I was singin' in choirs and things…" He tried his hand as a singer with the local band of George Comeau. The vocal part did not lead to success but he had written a song called "Two Years Of Torture" and with it hoped to provide a successful hit for blues and jazz vocalist Jimmy Witherspoon. He went to Al Patrick's Supreme Records label in L.A. and the folks there thought Mayfield's demo of the tune sounded good enough to be recorded by them. It was released in late 1949. Through the early months of 1950 "Two Years Of Torture" was a steady seller in California, especially in Los Angeles. By July of the year the recording master was picked up by local music entrepreneur John Dolphin and re-released on his Recorded In Hollywood label.

Percy Mayfield
Percy Mayfield

Art Rupe was impressed enough to sign Mayfield to an exclusive recording contract with his label Specialty Records. The first release for the label by Mayfield is "Please Send Me Someone To Love" backed with "Strange Things Happen." The record eventually climbed to number one on the R&B charts. By November Mayfield was a top draw in the Los Angeles area. Rupe signed Mayfield to a new five year contract. The hits came steadily as Mayfield scored with "Strange Things Happening" (#7 R&B), "Lost Love" (#2 R&B) "What a Fool I Was" (#8 R&B), "Prayin' for Your Return" (#9 R&B), "Cry Baby" (#9 R&B), and "Big Question" (#6 R&B ) cementing his reputation as one of the blues premier balladeers.

In September of 1952 while returning to Los Angeles from a date in Las Vegas, Mayfield was seriously injured in an auto accident. His career was put on hold while a long recuperation period began. A tragic result of the accident was the serious disfigurement of Mayfield's facial features which which had a profound effect on him. Even though his touring was drastically curtailed after the accident, Mayfield hung in there as a Specialty artist through 1954, switching to Chess in 1955-56 and Imperial in 1959. Around this time Mayfield went around to various labels with a song he had written. The song was called "Hit The Road, Jack", and it came to the attention of Ray Charles who was also starting his own record label called Tangerine. Charles hired on Mayfield as a writer and also gave him a chance to record for the label.

Mayfield penned some prime material for Ray Charles in the 60's including "Hide Nor Hair," "The Danger Zone," "My Baby Don't Dig Me", "At The Club", "On The Other Hand, Baby" among others. He recorded two LP's for Tangerine (with the Ray Charles band), My Jug And I and Bought Blues. This was a particularly fertile period that found Mayfield waxing gems like a funky remake of "River's Invitation" which hit #25 on the charts, the autobiographical "Stranger In My Own Home Town”, harrowing tales about his bout with alcoholism on "My Bottle Is My Companion" and "My Jug And I" and his last chart hit, the humorous "I Don't Want To Be President" (#64 R&B) released in September 1974 on Atlantic the month before Nixon resigned. Mayfield's Tangerine sides have been collected on Rhino's limited addition His Tangerine And Atlantic Sides.

Percy Mayfield: River's InvitationAfter leaving Tangerine in the late sixties Mayfield recorded a fine album for Brunswick in in 1968 called Walking on a Tightrope. Featuring guitarist Wayne Bennett and a strong band, Mayfield is in top form on the title track plus gems like "May Pain Is Here To Stay" and "P.M. Blues." In 1970 he signed to RCA Victor cutting three albums for the label: Blues…And Then Some, Percy Mayfield Sings and Weakness Is A Thing Called Man. These albums are currently out of print and generally overlooked. Where his earlier work feels timeless, these recordings sound slightly dated, however, they are very strong outings and there's a number of fine songs including "To Live The Past" (#41 R&B), "The Highway Is Like A Woman", "Weakness Is A Thing Called Man" and "The Devil Made Me Do It." Mayfield spent the rest of the 1970's in relative obscurity, unable to get a record deal. He performed on a limited basis until his death in 1984. Since his passing his stature as a songwriter continues to grow and his songs remain oft covered.

 

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
George Higgs Katie Mae BluesUnreleased
George Higgs Skinny Woman BluesUnreleased
Eddie Burns Papa' Boogie Detroit Ghetto Blues 1948-1954
Eddie Burns SuperstitionTreat Me Like I Treat You

Eddie Burns Biscuit Bakin' Mama Treat Me Like I Treat You

Sam Collins Dark And Cloudy BluesJailhouse Blues
William HarrisI'm Leavin' Town(But I Sho Don't Wanna Go)The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Johnnie HeadFare Thee Blues Part 2Country Blues Collector's Items 1924 - 1928
The Two Charlies Don't Put Your Dirty Hands On Me Charley Jordan Vol. 3 1935 - 1937

The Two Charlies Bad Feeling Blues Charley Jordan Vol. 3 1935 - 1937
Effie Smith Wee Baby Brother BluesEffie Smith 1945- 53
Cecil GantMy House Fell DownCecil Gant Vol. 5 1947-1949
Ray Charles I Got A Break BabyComplete Atlantic recordings
Lonnie Clark Broke Down EngineDown In Black Bottom
Pinetop BurksJack of All Trades BluesSan Antonio Blues 1937
Barrelhouse Buck Got To Go BluesDevil At The Confluence
Jackie Brenston The Blues Got Me AgainThe Mistreater
Jackie Brenston Much LaterThe Mistreater
Jelly Roll MortonMake Me a Pallet on the Floor Pt. 2 The Complete Library of Congress Recordings
Willie Brown Make Me a Pallet on the Floor Mississippi Blues: Library of Congress Recordings 1940-1942
Bill WilliamsMake Me a Pallet on the Floor Low and Lonesome & Blues, Rags and Ballads
Willy Flowers Levee Camp Holler Red River Blues
Sonny Chestain Po' Boy Long Way From Home Red River Blues
Otis Spann Country BoyComplete Candid recordings
Sonny Boy Williamson II Open RoadBummer Road
Big Mama Thornton I'm Feeling AlrightBall N' Chain
Alice Moore w/ Kokomo Arnold Grass Cutter Blues Kokomo Arnold Vol. 3 1936 - 1937
Merline Johnson Pallet On The FloorThe Yas Yas Girl Vol. 1 1937-1938
Lillian Glinn Atlanta BluesLillian Glinn 1927-1929
Eddie Burns Orange DriverTreat Me Like I Treat You
Eddie Burns Hard Hearted Woman Treat Me Like I Treat You

Show Notes:

***Just a quick update regarding George Higgs. I erroneously reported that he had passed which I'm glad today is not the case. Tim Duffy, who recorded George, passed along the news.***

Eddie Burns

We open the first show of the year on a somber note with several blues deaths. On today's program we pay tribute to the recently departed George Higgs and Eddie Burns. We also lost the legendary Jimmy McCracklin who I'll be spotlighting in-depth next week. Also on deck today are twin spins by the mysterious Two Charlies and a pair by fine singer Jackie Brenston backed by Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm. There's plenty of excellent piano blues from the pre-war and post-war eras including Pinetop Burks, Lonnie Clark, Cecil Gant, Ray Charles, Otis Spann, some fine blues ladies such as Alice Moore, Lillian Glinn, Merline Johnson and Effie Smith and a batch of songs revolving around the blues standard "Make Me A Pallet On The Floor."

George Higgs was born in 1930 in a farming community in Edgecombe County near Speed, North Carolina (“a slow town with a fast name” as he is fond of saying.) and was a fine guitar and harp player in the Piedmont tradition. Throughout the 40’s and 50’s he was a popular performer at fish fries and house parties and later on performed gospel with a local quartet. Pete Lowry recorded him and partner Elester Anderson extensivley in 1979 but these sides remain unreleased. In the early 2000's he cut a pair of albums for the Music Maker label. Today's two cut were graciously sent to me by Pete Lowry and have not be released in any form before.

Eddie Burns passed on December 12th at the age of 84. Born in Belzoni, Mississippi, he grew up in the small town of Dublin, close to Clarksdale, where he became acquainted with the popular blues artists of the 30s and 40s by hearing their records in his grandfather's club. Burns left home at 16 and, after a spell in Clarksdale, moved to Waterloo, Iowa then to Detroit in 1948. At a house party he met John Lee Hooker. Burns went along to a recording session with Hooker and played harmonica on "Miss Eloise" and "Burnin' Hell." Hooker, in turn, accompanied Burns at a 1951 session but these recordings would not be issued until many years later. Burns was also developing as a guitarist, and in 1966, when he and Hooker were reunited on Hooker's Chess album The Real Folk Blues, he played guitar throughout. Burns made his debut in 1948 and through the 50's cut sides for JVB, Deluxe and Chess. He continued to cut scattered singles through the 60's. Thanks to the new international blues audience of the 1970s, Burns had the opportunity to visit Europe several times. Burns cut his last album for Delmark in 2001. Among today's featured tracks are "Papa's Boogie," his 1948 debut, a harmonica/guitar duet recorded by Bernie Bessman and leased to the Holiday label which issued it under the pseudonym Slim Pickens. We also spin both sides of his superb Checker single from 1954, "Superstition b/w Biscuit Baking Mama" (released as Big Ed and his Combo) and both sides of his 1961 Harvey single, "Orange Driver b/w Hard Hearted Woman."

The Two Charlies were Charlie Manson & Charlie Jordan who cut eight sides for the ARC label in 1936. Today we spin "Don't Put Your Dirty Hands On Me" and "Bad Feeling Blues." Nothing is known about the duo. It's generally accepted that Charlie Jordan of the Two Charlies has no connection with Charley Jordan of St. Louis.

Sam Phillips produced "Rocket 88," Jackie Brenston's debut in Memphis. The singer/saxist was backed by Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm, an group that Brenston had joined the previous year. Billed as by Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats, "Rocket 88" hit the top slot on brenston-much-ltrthe R&B charts and remained there for more than a month. But none of his Chess follow-ups had the same impact, though "Real Gone Rocket" was certainly a good one. After a few more Chess singles went nowhere, Brenston reunited with Turner in 1955, holding down the baritone sax chair until 1962. He cut a series of terrific sides fronting Turner's Kings of Rhythm along the way: "Gonna Wait for My Chance" and "Much Later" for Federal in 1956, "You've Got to Lose" for Chicago's Cobra label in 1958 (also doing session work there with Otis Rush and Buddy Guy), and "You Ain't the One" for Sue in 1961. After a final single for Mel London's Mel-Lon imprint, Brenston's career ran out of steam.

"Make Me a Pallet on the Floor" is a song, according to the Encyclopedia of the Blues, that most likely dates from the end of the nineteenth century. Its earliest known appearance is in the 1908 piano ragtime composition "Southern Rag Medley No. 1" by black concert pianist Blind Boone. The lyrics first appear in a 1911 article by folklorist Howard Odum who had transcribed them from a performance he had heard in Mississippi a few years before. The first recording to quote the melody was a 1917 Columbia disk by W. C. Handy’s band of "Sweet Child." It was Handy who first published a song version of "Make Me a Pallet" in 1923 and retitled ‘‘Atlanta Blues.’’ This version was recorded by several blues singers including Lillian Glinn who's version we feature today. In the later 1920's,"Make Me a Pallet" appeared in blues recordings by Ethel Waters, Virginia Liston, Mississippi John Hurt (as "Ain't No Tellin'"), Willie Harris (as "Never Drive A Stranger From Your Door") among others. There were many versions in the post-war era as well. Today we spin versions by Jelly Roll Morton, who cut a four-part version for the Library of Congress in 1938, each successive version dirtier than the previous, a  magnificent 1941 version by Willie Brown also cut for the  Library of Congress and a post-war version by Bill Williams a one-time running buddy of Blind Blake.

The West Coast had a thriving blues and jazz scene in the 1940’s and 50’s with most of the activity centering around the Los Angeles, Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco Bay areas. There were several strains of blues that rose to prominence including a moody, after hours brand of piano blues popularized by the inimitable Charles Brown. Brown’s influence was profound, setting the stage for fellow pianists like Amos Milburn, Floyd Dixon, Little Willie Littlefield, Ivory Joe Hunter, Roy Hawkins and Cecil Gant among others . There's was also something of a trend circa the mid to late 40's of boogie- woogie blues ladies, most based around the Los Angles area. Among those active during this period were Camille Howard, Betty Hall Jones,  Hadda Brooks, Vivianne Green, Effie Smith among others. Today we hear from Cecil Gant and Effie Smith.

Gant was a first rate ballad singer in the vein of Nat King Cole and Charles Brown but he was also a superb bluesman who could lay down some storming boogie-woogie. Gant recorded prolifically for the L.A. labels Gilt-Edge and 4 Star and in Nashville, which was probably his hometown, for Bullet, Dot and Decca, meanwhile playing in nightclubs throughout the country. Between 1944 and 1951 he waxed over 150 sides before his untimely death in 1951 at the age of 38. Today we spin "My House Fell Down" from 1950, a terrific bluesy number sporting fine guitar from an unknown guitarist.

Willie Brown: Make Me A Pallet On The FloorDuring WWII Effie Smith had been featured on several AFRS "Jubilee" radio transcriptions and, after touring with Benny Carter's Orchestra in early 1945, her own solo recording career began with sides for the G&G and Gem labels, with small bands organised by Johnny Otis. Smith went on to record for Aladdin, Miltone, an unissued session for Modern, and then Decca. Smith didn't get any Billboard R&B chart action until the 1960's, when two of her own, self-produced comedy records made the charts: the two-part "Dial That Telephone." During the late 1960's and early 1970's she was employed by Stax Records to handle promotion work, behind the scenes, until her premature death in 1977 in Los Angeles, from cancer. Her early sides can be found on Effie Smith 1945- 53 on the Classics label.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Pee Wee Crayton Central AvenueThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton Louella BrownThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton Texas HopThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Big Mama Thornton Cotton Picking Blues1950-1953
Big Mama Thornton Let Your Tears Fall Baby1950-1953
Big Mama Thornton They Call Me Big Mama1950-1953
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Motor Head Baby1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Half Pint of Whiskey1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson What's Goin' On1952-1955
Pee Wee Crayton Blues After HoursThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton Change Your Way of Lovin'The Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton Rockin' The BluesThe Modern Legacy Vol. 1
Big Mama Thornton Walking Blues1952-1955
Big Mama Thornton Hard Times1952-1955
Big Mama Thornton Hound Dog1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson I Love to Love You 1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Hot Little Mama1952-1955
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Too Tired1952-1955
Pee Wee Crayton The Telephone Is RingingTaste of the Blues, Vol. 1
Pee Wee Crayton When It Rain It PoursComplete Aladdin & Imperial Recordings
Big Mama Thornton Willie Mae's Blues1950-1953
Big Mama Thornton I Smell A RatHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Big Mama Thornton Rockaby BabyHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Someone Cares for Me Hot Just Like TNT
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Don't Touch Me (I'm Gonna Hit the Highway)Hot Just Like TNT
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Those Lonely, Lonely NightsHot Just Like TNT
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Three Hours Past MidnightHot Just Like TNT
Big Mama Thornton Stop A-Hoppin' on Me Hound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Pee Wee Crayton Do Unto OthersComplete Aladdin & Imperial Recordings
Johnny "Guitar" Watson One Room Country ShackThe Original Gangster of Love: The Keen Records Sessions
Pee Wee Crayton Runnin' WildComplete Aladdin & Imperial Recordings
Big Mama Thornton Yes, BabyHound Dog: The Peacock Recordings
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Gangster of LoveThe Original Gangster of Love: The Keen Records Sessions
Johnny "Guitar" Watson Looking BackThe Original Gangster of Love: The Keen Records Sessions

Show Notes:

Pee Wee Crayton
Pee Wee Crayton

Today's show is the third of a series spotlighting some fine West Coast artists that I wanted to feature in more depth, the bulk form Texas and California, who cut sides for the myriad labels that popped up in the immediate port-war era. In California the blues thrived around around the Los Angeles, Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco Bay areas. Many of the artists were transplanted Texans who had come to California during the war year to find jobs in the booming defense industry in the Oakland-San Francisco Bay area. Connie Crayton was a transplanted Texan who relocated to Los Angeles in 1935, later moving north to the Bay Area. He signed with the Bihari brothers' L.A.-based Modern logo in 1948, and continued through the 50's cutting fine sides for Imperial and Vee-Jay. Big Mama Thornton was born in Alabama, spent several years singing with Sammy Green's Georgia-based Hot Harlem Revue before relocating to Houston in 1948. In Houston she recorded for the locally based Peacock label through the end of the 50's before settling in San Francisco. Johnny Watson was born in Houston and started playing the jule joints as a teenager, performing as a vocalist, pianist, and guitarist . He moved to Los Angeles around 1950 where he made his debut for Federal in 1952.

Connie Crayton was a transplanted Texan who relocated to Los Angeles in 1935, later moving north to the Bay Area. Crayton told interviewer John Breckow, "We got to be real good friends", speaking of T-Bone Walker. According to another Pee Wee interview, T-Bone "showed me how to string up the guitar to get the blues sound out of it. T-Bone was gonna try to help me learn how to play. My timing was real bad. T-Bone helped me with my timing. He would play the piano or the bass and show me how to play in time." The two went on to stage friendly battles, and when T-Bone's health problems interfered with his gigs late in life, Crayton was on call to fill in whenever he was available. Pee Wee was also influenced by Charlie Christian who he saw perform in 1941 and John Collins who worked with the Nat King Cole Trio. In 1946 he joined Ivory Joe Hunter’s band and appeared on a half-dozen recordings issued on the Pacific label.

Crayton signed with the Bihari brothers' L.A.-based Modern logo in 1948, quickly hit with the instrumental "Blues After Hours" , which topped the R&B charts in late 1948. "Texas Hop" trailed it up the charts shortly thereafter, followed the next year by "I Love You So." But Crayton's brief hitmaking reign was over soon over. After recording prolifically at Modern to no further commercial avail, Crayton moved on to Aladdin and, in 1954, Imperial. Under Dave Bartholomew's production, Crayton made some of his great waxings in New Orleans: "Every Dog Has His Day," "You Know Yeah," and "Runnin' Wild” among others.

In 1957 he hooked up with Vee-Jay in Chicago cutting some find sides, including one of his best, "The Telephone Is Ringing." The next decade brought Pee Wee his least glorious musical period as he mostly drove a truck and played locally. A fine LP he recorded didn't even credit him, appearing under the name of The Sunset Blues Band. Johnny Otis showcased Pee Wee in a memorable program at the 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival (issued on Epic), leading to a comeback LP on Vanguard (The Things I Used To Do), and Otis later recorded an LP by Pee Wee for his Blues Spectrum label. Pee Wee continued to record sporadically and added some prestigious festivals and international tours to his resume. Pee Wee's last two albums were recorded in Riverside, California for Murray Brothers, at the instigation of the label's A & R man, blues harpist Rod Piazza. Pee Wee passed in 1985.

Big Mama Thornton was born in Ariton, Alabama and her introduction to music started in a Baptist church, where her father was a minister and her mother a church singer. Thornton left Alabama at age 14 in 1941, following her mother's death. She joined Sammy Green's Hot Harlem Revue. She spent seven years with them in which she toured the South. In 1948, she settled in Houston, Texas, where she hoped to further her career as a singer She was also a self-taught drummer and harmonica player, and frequently played each instrument onstage. Thornton began her

Big Mama Thornton: I Smell  A Ratrecording career in Houston, signing a recording contract with Peacock Records in 1951.

While working with another Peacock artist, Johnny Otis, she recorded "Hound Dog," written by young songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as requested by Johnny Otis. The record was produced by Johnny Otis, and went to number one on the R&B chart. Although the record made her a star, she saw little of the profits. She continued to record for Peacock until 1957 and performed with R&B package tours with Junior Parker and Esther Phillips.

Her career began to fade in the late 1950's and early 1960's. She left Houston and relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she mostly played local blues clubs. In the arly-'60s she cut 45s for West Coast labels like Irma, Bay-Tone, Kent, and Sotoplay. In 1966, Thornton recorded Big Mama Thornton With The Muddy Waters Blues Band and in 1968 the album Ball 'n' Chain. Thornton performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1966 and 1968, and at the San Francisco Blues Festival in 1979. In 1965 she performed with the American Folk Blues Festival package in Europe. While in England that year, she recorded Big Mama Thornton in Europe and followed it up the next year in San Francisco with Big Mama Thornton with the Chicago Blues Band. Both albums came out on the Arhoolie label. She record through the 70’s, most notably for Vanguard, before passing in 1984. The funeral was led by her old friend, now Reverend Johnny Otis, and many artists paid tribute.

Johnny Watson was born in Houston on February 3, 1935. His father was a pianist who instructed his son in the rudiments of music, and at age 11 Watson was given a guitar by his grandfather, a preacher who disapproved of the blues and made the gift conditional on his never playing that most secular of musical forms. But "that was the first thing I played," Watson recalled in an interview. As a youth, Watson had heard the blues guitar of fellow Texan T- Bone Walker. He was also influenced by guitarist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Moving with his family to Los Angeles around 1950 and entered and won a variety of talent contests and shows. This exposure led to work as a sideman (sometimes still on piano) in various West Coast jump blues and jazz bands of the time, including those led by Chuck Higgins and Amos Milburn. Watson debuted on the Federal label in 1953, billed as "Young John Watson", cutting three sessions for the label through 1954.

After his session for the Federal label he hooked up with RPM, a subsidiary of Modern, cutting several sessions for the label through 1956. He scored his first hit in 1955 for RPM with a note-perfect cover of New Orleanian Earl King's two-chord swamp ballad "Those Lonely Lonely Nights." One day, Watson and company co-owner Joe Bihari went to see the 1954 Sterling Hayden film "Johnny Guitar," and Watson acquired the nickname that would stick with him for his entire performing career.Johnny Watson was born in Houston on February 3, 1935. His father was a pianist who instructed his son in the rudiments of music, and at age 11 Watson was given a guitar by his grandfather, a preacher who disapproved of the blues and made the gift conditional on his never playing that most secular of musical forms. But "that was the first thing I played," Watson recalled in an interview. As a youth, Watson had heard the blues guitar of fellow Texan T- Bone Walker. He was also influenced by guitarist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Moving with his family to Los Angeles around 1950 and entered and won a variety of talent contests and shows. This exposure led to work as a sideman (sometimes still on piano) in various West Coast jump blues and jazz bands of the time, including those led by Chuck Higgins and Amos Milburn. Watson debuted on the Federal label in 1953, billed as "Young John Watson", cutting three sessions for the label through 1954.

Those Lonely Lonely NightsWatson toured with such luminaries as Little Richard and acquired a reputation for exciting stage theatrics. "I used to play the guitar standing on my hands," he recalled in an interview. "I had a 1 50-foot cord and I could get on top of the auditorium–those things Jimi Hendrix was doing, I started that." During this period he also began to style himself as the "Gangster of Love," after the title of a 1957 single Watson cut for the Keen label. Watson scored a number six rhythm-and-blues hit with "Cuttin' In" on the King label in 1962. During the 1960s he also teamed frequently with vocalist Larry Williams, with whom he toured successfully in Britain as well as in the U.S. and recorded the much-covered "Mercy Mercy Mercy" in 1967.

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