Rocks The Blues
RIP 1931 – 2007


Show Notes:

By now everyone knows that Ike Turner has passed. Just about every notable publication had an obituary or opinion on Ike and not surprisingly many focused on his well publicized troubles instead of his musical legacy. Serious blues and rock fans know that well before Tina, Ike was a major player on the R&B and blues scene of the 1950's.

Ike and his Kings of Rhythm were right in the thick of things when blues and R&B was coalescing into rock and roll. Ike made his mark as rock solid boogie piano player and was also a distinctive guitarist with a biting tone who was one of the first to make the whammy bar an integral part of his sound. Growing up in Clarksdale Ike's first inspiration was pianist Pinetop Perkins who also inspired Ike's life long friend Ernest Lane. "Anyway", he recalled, "we started talkin' to Pinetop and he started teaching us different little boogie-woogie things. And from there, that started my musical life." It should be noted that Lane was still touring with Ike at the time of death and remains a fine piano player in his own right, and is one of the last who plays in the rock ribbed, boogie based style.

I'm Lonesome Baby 78As a teenager talked himself into a DJ slot on the local radio station, where he played everything from the jump blues of Louis Jordan to country & western. He formed his first band while still in high school, and by the late '40s had assembled an outfit dubbed the Kings of Rhythm. After “Rocket 88” Turner and his band became session regulars around Memphis; they went on to back legendary bluesmen like Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Bobby Bland, Jr. Parker, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and a host of Sun artists . During the early '50s, Turner switched from piano to guitar, and also doubled as a talent scout for the Bihari Brothers' Los Angeles-based Modern Records, where he helped get early breaks for artists like Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King. For many years Turner was the linchpin of Modern, working as a talent scout for Joe Bihari, a go-getter, a good pair of hands in the studio, and a fine musician to boot. On today's program we feature sides by Howlin' Wolf, Charley Booker, Elmore James, Driftin' Slim and Baby Face Turner all featuring Ike's piano.

Ike TurnerAlso featured today are many sides Ike cut with the mighty Kings of Rhythm, some of which came were issued variously as Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm, Ike Turner and His Orchestra and other variations. The Kings of Rhythm employed several fine vocalists including Jackie Brenston, Billy Gayles, Billy Emerson, Dennis Binder, Clayton Love, Lonnie "The Cat", Johnny Wright. Many of these sides were issued under the singer's name and we feature a number of these sides on today's show. In addition we feature many of Ike's many scorching instrumentals. Ike’s ferocious whammy-bar and ultra-aggressive string-bending solos were way ahead of their time from the mid-1950s onwards. He always considered himself foremost a boogie pianist who picked up electric guitar during the early 1950s because he had difficulty finding a reliable axeman for his band. "It sounds like I was a guitar player," said Ike. "But I'm not." We counter that claim by playing a number of Ike's jaw dropping guitar workouts like "Loosely (The Wild One)," "Go To It (Stringin' Along),""Prancing, "The New Breed" among others.

King CobraIke relocated to St. Louis in he late 50's frontong one of the hottest live acts in the area. The late 50's were leaner times for Ike cutting an unissued session for Sun, scattered 45's for Cobra/Artistic in Chicago (backing Otis Rush, Betty Everett, Buddy Guy in addition to cutting thier own material). Though his hitmaking activities with Tina began to relegate Ike's wild guitar to the background from 1960 on, he found time to cut an instrumental album for Sue in 1962 called Dance With Ike & Tina Turner’s Kings of Rhythm. Ike Turner Rocks The Blues was issued on Crown in 1963 and was a collection of his 50’s sides. Ike and Tina did cut a couple of solid blues based albums for Blue Thumb in 1969; Outta Season and The Hunter which actually featured an uncredited Albert Collins on guitar. Also in 1969 when he was out on tour in 1969 with his regular gig, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, Ike Turner cut the instrumental album A Black Man's Soul which was reissued by Funky Delicacies in 2003 with bonus cuts. Strange Fruit was another instrumental outing cut in 1972 for United Artists and the aptly titled Blues Roots was also cut for United Artists in 1972.

Ike has been well served on CD reissues. Among those featured on today's show include: Traiblazer (Charly) a collection of late 50's sides for Federal, Ike Turner: 1958-1959 (reissued by Fuel 2000 as King Cobra: The Chicago Sessions) a collection of his Cobra sides, Rhythm Rockin' Blues a collection of early-'50s sessions with the Kings of Rhythm, Ike's Instrumentals, Blues Kingpins a 18-track collection drawn from the vaults of RPM, Modern, Crown, and Sue. InRhythm Rockin' Blues addition Ike's role as talent scout is meticulously documented on the 4-CD Ace label series Modern Downhome Blues Session which collects sides Joe Bihari and Ike Turner recorded in the deep South for Modern between 1951 and early 1952. Notewriter Jim O'Neal sets the scene for these recordings: "The tale of their [the Bihari brothers] exploits in the land of cotton has all the elements of a Dixie docu-drama, complete with an indignant Southern heroine [Lillian McMurry of Trumpet Records], a double-dealing native talent scout [Ike Turner], small town sheriffs and police, subterfuge, disguise, raiders, traitors, spies, and clandestine operations. But no shots were fired in these skirmishes, and the only casualties were in lost record sales revenue, broken contracts, violated trusts, and one unfortunate blues artist's shattered career. The Biharis' battle wagon was a flashy new Cadillac, their artillery a four-channel Magnecord tape recorder, and their ammunition reels of magnetic tape and rolls of cash."

Ike Before Tina

Ike Turner New York Times Obit

Ike Turner Discography

Road To Robert Johnson & Beyond When The Levee Breaks

In my ongoing attempt to to clear some space in my house I've been systematically working my way through several piles of unlistened to records including several JSP box sets. For the uninitiated JSP specializes in issuing budget priced roots box sets of public domain material. On the blues front they've issued single artists sets such as the complete recordings of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, Charlie Patton, Ma Rainey as well as several themed sets like Atlanta Blues, Memphis Masters, East Coast Blues among many others. This time out we look at two four CD sets; The Road To Robert Johnson & Beyond and When The Levee Breaks collectively encompassing just over two hundred tracks of prime country blues with the Johnson set spending half of it's time in the post-war era.

Like many country blues fans it was Robert Johnson who was the first pre-war blues artist I seriously listened to (King of the Delta Blues Singers LP) and of course I was enthralled with the music. It was the music but also of course the mythology surrounding this mysterious figure that grabbed my imagination. Unfortunately by the time the "Complete Recordings" was issued in 1990 (going gold and selling over a million copies by 1994) the "mythology had consumed reality," as Barry Lee Pearson wrote, and Johnson's musical accomplishments were clouded in a haze of mythology and romanticism. Unfortunately this obsession on every minutiae of Johnson's life has taken away the focus on his very real talents and perhaps more importantly this lopsided focus on Johnson has obscured the fact that he was very much part of a tradition; his music firmly built on the artists who came before like Lonnie Johnson and Tampa Red who don't get a shred of the acclaim that Johnson does. The Road To Robert Johnson & Beyond attempts to place Johnson in historical context; disc one traces the roots of Robert Johnson, those artists who came before Johnson and who directly or indirectly shaped his style, disc two contains Johnson's own records while the remaining discs contain music from those influenced by Johnson. If this sounds like deja vu, well it's been done before in more streamlined fashion by Yazoo Records who in 2004 released Back to the Crossroads: The Roots of Robert Johnson which was an expanded and revised version of their The Roots of Robert Johnson which came out in 1990.

It's strange then that the blurb on the box set indulges in the usual hyperbole that surrounds Johnson, first equating him to Shakespeare and someone "who took the raw, deep blues of an older generation and created a new style and a body of recorded work of the deepest genius which would be the template for blues (and much of rock music) for the next 60 years or so. He forged one of the four pillars upon which twentieth century music stands (Louis Armstrong's Hot Five, Elvis Presley and the Beatles being the other three)." Geez!

Johnson's brilliance was in how he borrowed, adapted, synthesized and added his own flourish to the music of those who came before and this is well illustrated in the first disc, the so called "raw materials." Much of the same songs are compiled as in the Yazoo, in quite good sound, but if you haven't heard them it's certainly interesting to see where Johnson may have gotten his inspiration. The 25 tracks are a who's who of country blues greats including extraordinary slide guitarist Kokomo Arnold an inspiration for Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago" and "I'll Believe I'll Dust My Broom", Leroy Carr whose urbane "When The Sun Goes Down" was the source of "Love In Vain", the popular Peetie Wheatstraw whose "Police Station Blues" was reworked by Johnson into "Terraplane Blues" and "Hellhound On My Trail" and Lonnie Johnson, one of the era's most influential guitarists, whose "Life Saver Blues" guitar arrangement was lifted nearly note for note in Johnson's "Malted Milk" and "Drunken Hearted Man." Other artists include Son House who Johnson learned directly from, Skip James, Charlie Patton, the Mississippi sheiks and others.

The second disc contains all of Johnson's records sans the alternate takes and really there's nothing I can say that hasn't been said – several forests have been felled producing the paper that's been written about these sides. The final two discs contain those artists who have been influenced by Johnson either directly like Johnny Shines, Robert Lockwood, Calvin Frazier, Honeyboy Edwards or indirectly like Muddy Waters and Elmore James. Thematically this is where the box strains at the seams; Muddy for instance was more influenced by Son House and may have seen Johnson once or not at all, Robert Lee McCoy (Robert Nighthawk) probably met Johnson but bears no stylistic influence, the same can be said for Big Joe Williams (although a couple of Johnson's Terraplane Blues lines showed up in I'm A Highway Man) and Baby Boy Warren does a faithful cover of Stop Breaking Down although it's unknown where he learned the song and artists like Homesick James, Little Walter and Baby Face Leroy have only a tenuous connection to Johnson at best. Then there's eleven tracks from 1975 by the mysterious Blind Will Dukes who claimed to learn from Johnson himself but sound suspiciously like he learned from the records. Still, the material itself is hard to fault, sound generally very good and typically informative notes by JSP's chief writer Neil Slaven who surely must have writer's cramp at the rate these box sets are issued. Buying this set I suppose depends on how much of the music you already have and certainly the budget price is attractive. For those newer to the music who's main introduction to country blues is through Johnson, this box is worthwhile for putting Johnson's music in historical context.

Thematically When the Levee Breaks Mississippi Blues Rare Cuts 1926-41, there's a mouthful of a title, is a bit loose as well gathering recordings made by Mississippi artists in a fruitful fifteen year span. The one hundred recordings contain many outright masterpieces with the slant on lesser know artists such as Freddie Spruell, Arthur Petties, William Harris, Mississippi Bracey, Otto Virgial, Walter Rhodes, Willie '61' Blackwell. Most of these names are well known among collectors and certainly artists like Geeshie Wiley, King Solomon Hill, Blind Joe Reynolds and Garfield Akers have long ago entered the blues cannon despite exceedingly slim discographies. Mississippi blues is usually associated with Delta, usually with the prevalence on slide or bottleneck playing but this collection goes some ways to dispel that notion providing a wide range of styles from men and woman all over the state.

Sound quality is generally good, considering the extreme rarity of the records, generally on par with Document but not the equivalent of Yazoo, which have an exceptional feel for remastering pre-war blues that's virtually unmatched outside other specialist outfits like Revenant and Old Hat. Indeed for several of these records there's only one known copy; newly discovered sides by Son House, Blind Joe Reynolds and King Solomon Hill are included, all of which have been released previously by Yazoo so it's easy to deduce where JSP sourced their copies. "Clarksdale Moan" b/w "Mississippi County Farm Blues" is from House’s legendary 1930 Paramount session with Willie Brown and Charlie Patton. "Clarksdale Moan" is a strange tune but "Mississippi County Farm Blues" is a surging, slide driven powerhouse version of a number he would cut a dozen years later for the Library of Congress. Another long lost Paramount from the same year is Blind Joe Reynolds' "Ninety Nine Blues" b/w "Cold Woman Blues" found at a flea market a few years back and purchased for one dollar! A quick comparison between JSP's transfer and that found on Revenant's Screamin' & Hollerin' The Blues finds Revenant's transfer much more lively, with JSP damping down some of the noise to negative effect. I'll simply agree with Yazoo's Richard Nevins who called "Cold Woman Blues" a masterpiece although I prefer "Ninety Nine Blues" with it's explosive drive and unrelenting swing. Lyrically it shares a number of verses with the magnificent "Third Street Woman Blues" ("My woman's got something called a stingaree/Four o'clock in the morning she turns it loose on me"), also included, which unlike his other slide numbers, features some very effective strumming. King Solomon Hill is another shadowy figure who signed to the Paramount label in 1932, soon traveling to Grafton, Wisconsin to record six tracks – two of them alternate takes – which comprise his known discography; songs like the eerie "Gone Dead Train" and "Down on Bended Knee" are masterly performances featuring Hill's eerie falsetto and raw, unorthodox guitar work. In 2002 record collector John Tefteller went to Grafton and discovered the long lost Hill 78 "My Buddy Blind Papa Lemon" b/w "Times Has Done Got Hard" in mint condition, both included here. "My Buddy Blind Papa Lemon" is a stunner and one of the rare tributes from one bluesman to another (Leroy Carr garnered a few and Lemon was also mention in a sermon by Rev. Emmett Dickinson).

One of the benefits of having all these tracks in one place is that it lets you reassess some of the lesser known names such as Freddie Spruell, 'Bogus' Ben Covington, Arthur Petties, J.D. Short, Mississippi Bracey, William Harris, Joe Calicott, Sam Butler (Bo Weavil Jackson), Willie '61' Blackwell among others. Spruell was one of the first self-accompanied guitarists to record and lived in Chicago when he made his debut for OKeh Records in 1926. He seems to have some connection to the Delta but his background is hazy. Eight of his ten records are on board showcasing a fine singer/guitarist particularly on "Muddy Water Blues" from his first session and "Mr. Freddie's Kokomo Blues" and "Let's Go Riding" from his last with Carl Martin on guitar. Arthur Petties was another appealing singer who we know little about. He possessed a fine rich voice with "Revenue Man Blues" and "That Won't Do" being standouts with Jed Davenport on harmonica on the former. It should be noted that his song "Good Boy Blues" is actually Webster Taylor's "Sunny Southern Blues." Unfortunately these kind of mistakes appear on many of the JSP sets. The excellent Jaydee Short or J.D. Short who recorded as 'Jelly Jaw' Short and Joe Stone was born in Mississippi but is really associated with St. Louis where he spent his entire life. "Let's get stomped out and get drunk and run" he announces at the beginning of "Barefoot Blues" propelled by his quick chorded runs and powerful vocal. Equally strong is the wonderful "Snake Doctor Blues" and the tough depression era blues of "It's Hard Time." 'Bogus' Ben Covington sounds like a throwback from an older era as he plays banjo and harmonica energetically on "Boodle-de-Bum Blues" and the hilarious "Adam & Eve in the Garden" which is just the type of song church folk probably labeled the devil's music: "When Adam and Eve was in the Garden of Eden, they must have shook that thing/Well the leaves started falling, the snakes started crawling/He must have give her a diamond ring." Joe Calicott has been a long time favorite of mine and is marvelous whether backing Garfield Akers on the throbbing two part "Cottonfield Blues" (Aker's other two numbers are also included) or his lone 78 "Fare Thee Well Blues" b/w "Traveling Mama Blues." When he was rediscovered some forty years down the line his talents remained virtually unchanged and those late period records come highly recommended. Then there's the marvelous Bo Weavil Jackson who actually hailed from Birmingham, Alabama but is called in the notes an "honorary Mississipian" for some reason. The sides included come from his 1926 Vocalion session (some of the Paramounts were issued on JSP's Paramount Masters – in fact quite a number of artists on this set also have cuts on the Paramount box); Jackson possessed a high piercing voice and played remarkable, complex slide heard to fine effect on "You Can't Keep No Brown" although I prefer the earlier version he cut for Paramount, "Devil and My Brown Blues" and the fine "Jefferson County Blues."

When the Levee Breaks is a treasure trove of terrific country blues and I suppose collectors will have to sort out how much of this material they have where as newer fans may be a bit overwhelmed by it all. Neal Slaven offers up a particularly fine set of notes for this collection. JSP's remastering is very uneven; on certain sets like the recently reviewed Ma Rainey they've generally done a fine job but on a set like this many tracks sound quite good while several others fall well short of similar tracks reissued by Yazoo and Revenant. I've also read a comment on a pre-war blues forum where the writer suggested that JSP's remastering isn't done for the sake of the music but to hide the fact that they are re-releasing tracks from other labels. I suppose you'll have to make up your own mind but certainly the music can't be faulted and the price is right.

Son House – Walkin' Blues [The Road To Robert Johnson](MP3)

Blind Blake – Georgia Bound [The Road To Robert Johnson] (MP3)

Blind Joe Reynolds – Ninety Nine Blues [When The Levee Breaks] (MP3)




Show Notes:

From late 1958 into the early 60s, Junior Parker toured the country with a show called Blues Consolidated with long time running mate Bobby Bland and Willa Mae Thornton with a combo led by Duke Records veteran Joe Scott. Today's show spotlights both of the remarkable singers who rose to prominence in the early 1950's on the fertile Memphis blues scene.

Junior parker PhotoJunior Parker was an extraordinary blues singer and harmonica player who laid down some superb material over the course of a twenty-year career (1952-1971) before his life was cut short just prior to his fortieth birthday. It’s inexplicable, then, why he has such a low profile among blues aficionados. He hit the charts a fair bit through the 1960’s for Duke, retained a strong following among the black club audience but failed to break through to a wider audience. As such he was virtually ignored by the new white blues audience of the 1960’s. If Parker is mentioned at all these days it’s usually in association with his 1953 number “Mystery Train” which was picked up by Elvis.

Parker learned his initial harmonica style from Sonny Boy Williamson II and gigged with the Howlin' Wolf while still in his teens. Like so many young blues artists, Little Junior (as he was known then) got his first recording opportunity from talent scout Ike Turner, who brought him to Modern Records for his debut session as a leader in 1952. It produced the lone single "You're My Angel" b/w "Bad Woman, Bad Whiskey" with Turner on piano and Matt Murphy on guitar. Parker and his band, the Blue Flames (including FloydBland/Park Parker Poster Murphy, Matt's brother, on guitar), landed at Sun Records in 1953 and promptly scored a hit with their rollicking "Feelin' Good." Later that year, Parker cut "Love My Baby" and "Mystery Train."

Before 1953 was through, Junior Parker had moved on to Don Robey's Duke label in Houston. It took a while for the harpist to regain his hitmaking momentum, but he scored big in 1957 with the "Next Time You See Me." Parker developed a horn driven sound (usually the work of trumpeter/Duke-house-bandleader Joe Scott) that added power to his vocals and harp solos. Parker's updated remake of Roosevelt Sykes's "Driving Wheel" was a huge R&B hit in 1961, as was "In the Dark."

Parker continued to hit the charts through the 60’s with a mix of blues and R&B scoring with songs like “Sweet Home Chicago”, “Annie Get Your Yo-Yo”, “Man Or Mouse”, “Someone Somewhere.” Once Parker split from Robey's employ in 1966 the hits began to wane. From 1966-1968 he recorded for Mercury and its Blue Rock subsidiary and cut sides for Capitol in 1970. Parker died in November 1971 during an operation for a brain tumor. Before he passed he sailed into the 1970’s in promising fashion cutting a pair of terrific albums; “You Don’t Have To Be Black To Love The Blues” circa 1970/1971 for Groove Merchant and “I Tell Stories Sad And True” for United Artists which was released in 1972. In 2001, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

That Man LPFor all his promise, Bland's musical career started slowly. He was a founding member of the Beale Streeters, the famous Memphis aggregation that also included B.B. King and Johnny Ace. He cut singles for Chess in (produced by Sam Phillips) and Modern in 1951 that failed to catch on. Bland hooked up with Duke in 1952 cutting a few singles before entering the army. Bland always had a great voice but his early sides were a bit rough around the edges. But his progress upon his 1955 return was remarkable; with saxist Bill Harvey's band providing support, Bland sounded much more assured.

Most of Bland's sides during the mid- to late '50s featured the slashing guitar of Clarence Hollimon, notably "I Smell Trouble," "I Don't Believe," "Don't Want No Woman," "You Got Me (Where You Want Me)," the torrid "Loan a Helping Hand" and "Teach Me (How to Love You)." But the guitar riffs guiding Bland's first national hit, 1957's "Farther Up the Road," were contributed by Pat Hare. Later, WayneBobby Bland Revue Poster Bennett took over on guitar, his fret work prominent on Bland's Duke waxings throughout much of the '60s. "Farther Up the Road” was a #1 R&B hit, the first of more than 20 R&B top ten records. During this period Bland toured the Southern chitlin circuit incessantly. Joe Scott steered Bland into smoother material as the decade turned; a mixture of blues, R&B, and soul on numbers like"I Pity the Fool," "I'll Take Care of You," and "Two Steps From the Blues" which were tremendously influential. Scott's brass arrangements provided the perfect backing on Bland's rockers like "Turn on Your Love Light" in 1961 and "Yield Not to Temptation" the next year.

In 1973, Don Robey sold his labels to ABC Records, and Bland was part of the deal. Without Joe Scott and his familiar surroundings to lean on, Bland's releases grew less consistent although "His California Album" in 1973 and 1974's "Dreamer" had some nice moments. Bland re-teamed with his old pal B.B. King for a couple of mid-'70s albums. Since the mid-'80s, Bland has recorded Malaco Records. His last album was "Blues At midnight" in 2003.


Kennedy's Blues

Kennedy's Blues is the third volume in Guido Van Rijn's groundbreaking series of books focusing on topical blues and gospel songs. The critically praised Roosevelt Blues kicked off the series in 1997, an examination of all the blues and gospel songs during Roosevelt's administration that contained political commentary and doing the same with 2004's The Truman And Eisenhower Blues. In Kennedy's Blues Rijn turns his attention on the Kennedy years (1961-1963) once again exhaustively analyzing seemingly every blues and gospel song with political content and providing an invaluable and previously untapped source on how Kennedy was viewed in the African American community.

Roosevelt was considered the "poor man's friend" and the lyrical evidence suggests he was viewed "as a benevolent and powerful patron or 'bossman'" while Truman was seen as much more fallible and "unresponsive to the economic plight of black people as well as their growing demands for equal rights." Kennedy's reputation, particularly in the early years, was rather ambivalent but his death, as the lyrical evidence makes clear, "virtually eradicated any criticism of his international or political policies and left him an unadulterated hero."

In his perceptive foreword, Brian Ward notes that "Kennedy's Blues can be said to feature a series of musical 'editorials' on the state of black America and it's collective investment in the promise of the Kennedy administration during the early 1960's." In addition, of course, are the large cache of memorial songs Rijn examines in the wake of Kennedy's tragic murder. Particularly valuable is Rijn's examination of recorded sermons and the records by black comedians like Slappy White and Dick Gregory. As Rijn notes, this book, like the previous volumes, attempts to "restore the silenced voices" and "lost consciousness" of African Americans. The difference is that overt political commentary was rare in recorded blues and gospel prior to the 1960's but became increasingly more common afterwards; 95 percent of the songs in the book were issued while in Roosevelt's era it was 22 percent and 20 percent in the Truman and Eisenhower eras. In all 131 songs are mentioned (89 studied in full) with chapters dealing with the Kennedy myth, cold war, space race, economy, civil rights and the assassination.

While overt criticism against Kennedy, like FDR, was virtually nonexistent there was, as in previous eras, many songs concerned about war and the economy. The draft (300,000 were called up in the winter of 1961) and the Bay of Pigs were primary concerns in the chapter JFK Says I've Got To Go: songs documented include Wilbert Harrison's "Drafted", Lightnin' Hopkins' "War Is Starting Again", Bo Diddley's "Mr. Krushchev", J.D. Short's harrowing "Fighting For Dear Old Uncle Sam" among others. Unemployment and poverty cast a shadow over the Kennedy era as documented in the chapter named after the Freddy King song, The Welfare Turns Its Back On You: songs examined include Jimmy Lee Robinson's "Times Is Hard", Chuck Brown "Hard Times At My Door" and Emmanuel Laskey's "Welfare Cheese" to cite a few.

The lengthiest chapters, March On, Dr. Martin Luther King and The Day The World Stood Still, deal with the increasingly turbulent civil rights movement and the assassination of Kennedy. Rijn tackled the movement's beginnings in The Truman And Eisenhower Blues in the chapters "The Freedom Choo Choo" dealing with the mid to late 40's and in "Alabama Bus" when the mass civil rights movement began to coalesce in the 50's. As Champion Jack Dupree explained: "I don't know anything about politics and that thing but I have seen the mess they have done out of people's life. I've seen these things, so when I sing I can really sing what's going on. If I stand on a box and tell people of all the wrong in the world, people wouldn't listen. But if I sing it on records all around the world everybody will know. That's the way we have to get our message out in the world to the people. …We couldn't stand up like the white men and speak. If we did, we would be killed or put in jail."

Not surprisingly Kennedy's assassination provoked an outpouring of memorial songs where "the deceased president emerges as a near-saint. As Rijn notes, "the blues and gospel singers' president was in heaven now. Like Christ he had died for our sins." Indeed Kennedy's death is often compared to the crucification of Christ a theme hammered home in gospel songs and sermons like Rev. Omie L. Holliday's "The Assassination of President Kennedy and the Crucification of Christ." The popularity of recorded sermons in the 1920's and 1930's was revived in the 1960's (now benefiting from the LP where sermons could be recorded in full) and Rijn goes at length to examine several of these which provide a rich vein of social commentary.

"Kennedy's Blues", like previous volumes, is an invaluable and illuminating look at the forgotten voices and opinions of African Americans "at a crucial, transitional moment in the black experience, just as a new era of mass activism and protest began." Through prodigious research and examining sources long ignored, Rijn has skillfully brought this era into sharper focus. I also have it on good authority that Rijn plans further sequels which is certainly good news.

As with previous books there is a companion CD featuring 28 of the songs discussed in the book. To order the CD visit:


Blues Roots LP

By now everyone knows that Ike Turner has passed. Just about every notable publication had an obituary or opinion on Ike and not surprisingly many focused on his well publicized troubles instead of his musical legacy. Serious blues and rock fans know that well before Tina, Ike was a major player on the R&B and blues scene of the 1950’s. Less well known is that even during the Ike & Tina years Ike would occasionally go in the studio with a version of his Kings of Rhythm or members of the Ike & Tina band and cut some roots based records. In 1962 he cut an instrumental album for Sue called Dance With Ike & Tina Turner’s Kings of Rhythm, in 1969 when he was out on tour with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, he found time to cut the instrumental album A Black Man’s Soul (reissued by Funky Delicacies in 2003), Strange Fruit was another instrumental outing cut in 1972 for United Artists and then there was the aptly titled Blues Roots also cut for United Artists in 1972. it seems Ike was looking back a bit to his early days as Ike and Tina cut a couple of solid blues based albums for Blue Thumb in 1969; Outta Season and The Hunter, the latter featuring an uncredited Albert Collins on guitar. In 1969 he also produced Earl Hooker's Sweet Black Angel for Blue Thumb; supposedly he plays piano but it may in fact be Ike's buddy Ernest Lane but Ike does play guitar on the blistering instrumental "The Mood" that closes the album.

It's a shame Blues Roots hasn't been issued on CD as it features Ike on a dozen blues tracks playing some stinging guitar and singing exceptionally well. Ike reminds me of Earl Hooker in the sense that both were outstanding guitar players who weren't confident vocally, although both were good singers, who relied on a host of others to do the singing. From what I've been able to dig up Turner cut the album in his home studio (the album was cut at Bolic Sound which was a studio Ike himself built) and played all the instruments himself although there's no mention of this on the album itself.

Blues Roots is an earthy, well produced album with some occasionally odd but effective overdubbing and it's clear that Ike was having some fun turning the knobs and experimenting in the studio. At it's heart the album sticks close to the title as Ike puts his unique stamp on covers like Chuck Willis' "You're Still My Baby" and "Broken Hearted" both beautifully sung numbers with Ike crooning quite a bit like Charles Brown with the latter featuring Ike tearing it up on both piano and guitar. Ike proves to be a fine singer and his frequent spoken asides are priceless. "Goin' Home" is another wonderfully sung number with bleating trumpet while "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" and "Think" are fairly faithful covers with the latter boasting some of Ike's dazzling string bending. Ike's impressive fretwork is also showcased on the low-down "Rockin' Blues", a sizzling cover of "That's Alright" backed by some vamping horns, "My Babe" and the slightly chaotic, yet infectious "If You Love Me Like You Say" sporting a wild, rock tinged guitar sound. Finally I have to mention the bizarre "Right On" with a strangely overdubbed vocal as Ike raps out a litany of observations; pearls of wisdom include "I love snow but I hate cold weather, things always go better with Coke" and "Like the rich man he, go out look for the pretty girl, the pretty girl go out looking for the rich man. The two get together – sad news" and "There's one thing about the dark, you can't tell black from white – everything feel alright." Whatever you say Ike!?

I'll be doing an extensive tribute to Ike on the January 13th show. Featured will be a good number of Ike's 1950's sides with the Kings of Rhythm, some of his session work, sides with Tina plus a few other assorted odds and ends including some tracks from Blues Roots.

You're Still My Baby (MP3)

Rockin' The Blues (MP3)

That's Alright (MP3)


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