Show Notes:

With the release of the movie Cadillac Records, based on Chess Records, I though I would do a show about Chess' early years when they were operating as Aristocrat Records. The bulk of the information in today's show notes comes from The Red Saunders Research Foundation's exhaustive look into the operations of the label.

The company was founded by Charles and Evelyn Aron. From June through December 1947, talent scout Sammy Goldberg helped to point the label toward rhythm and blues; he brought Jump Jackson, Tom Archia, Clarence Samuels, Andrew Tibbs, and Sunnyland Slim to the label.  Initially, their partners were Fred and Mildred Brount and Art Spiegel, none of whom took a leadership role in the business. By September 1947, Leonard Chess, the proprietor of a neighborhood bar and after-hours joint called the Macomba Lounge, had invested in the company and become involved in the sales end of Aristocrat's operations. Leonard Chess's name was first associated with the company in an item that appeared in Billboard on October 11, 1947; he was identified as a new addition to "the sales staff." By then he was already wholesaling Aristocrat product out of the trunk of his Buick.

Over time, Leonard Chess increased his share in the firm by buying the Brounts out. As he became more involved in the record business, he increasingly left the day-to-day operation of the Macomba to his brother Phil. After the Arons separated in 1948, Leonard Chess and Evelyn Aron ran the firm. In December 1949, Evelyn Aron married Art Sheridan and left to form American Distributing. The Chess brothers bought out her remaining share and became the sole owners; only at this point did Phil Chess become involved in the record company's operations. On June 3, 1950, the brothers changed the name of the company to Chess. Aristocrat thus survived in its original form a little over three years. For a small, undercapitalized company it was quite prolific. It appears that 264 titles were recorded by Aristocrat for release, and another 28 tracks recorded by others were purchased and released during the lifetime of the label, for a total of 292.

Andrew Tibbs - How LongToday's show is obviously geared to Aristocrat's blues output although the label issued a broad scope of musical styles. As the Red Saunders website notes: "The most-recorded musician during 1947 was Lee Monti, who led a polka band with two accordions; the second and third-most recorded artists were jazz tenor saxophonist Tom Archia and uptown blues singer Andrew Tibbs. In the early going, the company also recorded the piano trios of Prince Cooper, Duke Groner, and Jimmie Bell, ballad singer Danny Knight and crooner Jerry Abbott, a gospel group called the Seven Melody Men; it even tried out Country and Western guitarist Dick Hiorns. When Muddy Waters scored a hit with "I Can't Be Satisfied" in June 1948, the label's orientation began to shift… The dual emphasis on jazz (Gene Ammons) and down-home blues (Muddy Waters, Robert Nighthawk, The Blues Rockers) wasn't fully established until the first half of 1950, after the Chess brothers had bought out Evelyn Aron's remaining share of the company."

Aristocrat has been well served over the years by blues reissues. Everything Muddy Waters cut for the label, along with most of Robert Nighthawk, can be found on the 1997 2-CD set, The Aristocrat of the Blues which is where most of today's tracks come from. The label's other holdings, particularly jazz and R&B, have never gotten comparable treatment.Below is some background on today's artists.

Sax man Tom Archia performed mostly in jazz and swing bands. He cut some R&B sides for Aristocrat in 1947-48 as well as backing blues singers Andrew Tibbs and Jo Jo Adams. Jo Jo Adams was among the most flamboyant singers of Chicago's South Side who sang an urbane style of blues that prevailed in the 1940's. He also danced, told dirty jokes, and showed off his wardrobe of loudly colored formal wear with extra-long coattails. More often than not he doubled as MC at the clubs he played. Archia's sides are collected on Tom Archia 1947-1948 on the Classics label.

In the late '40s, drummer Armand "Jump" Jackson worked as a bandleader on sessions for labels such as Columbia, Specialty, and Aristocrat; his band backed up vocalists such as St. Louis Jimmy, Roosevelt Sykes, Sunnyland Slim, and Baby Doo Caston. He also drummed on at least a dozen classic blues albums, backing artists like John Lee Hooker and Robert Nighthawk. In 1959 he founded La Salle Records and began putting out his own sessions as well as sides by Eddie Boyd, Eddy Clearwater, Little Mack Simmons, and his old playing partner pianist Slim In 1962, Jackson was chosen as the drummer for the first American Folk Blues Festival tour of Europe.

The Dozier Boys were a long-lived vocal/instrumental group. They originated on the near North Side of Chicago around 1946 and disbanded in 1970. They made a number of appearances on television, and they recorded for several different labels between 1948 and 1964. Willie Dixon introduced them to Leonard Chess and made their first sides for Aristocrat in 1948.

The Four Blazes were founded in 1940 and became the Five when they added Ernie Harper, a piano player from Pittsburgh, in 1945. The group made their recording debut in 1947 for Aristocrat.

Andrew Tibbs got his start singing in church choirs. When he surreptitiously began singing blues in clubs, Sunnyland Slim - Johnson Machine Gunhe used his middle name and his mother's maiden name, becoming "Andrew Tibbs." He was singing at Jimmy's Palm Garden when Sammy Goldberg saw him at the club and signed him to Aristocrat; Leonard Chess saw commercial potential in recording Tibbs, and decided to invest in the company. Tibbs' debut session has always been said to be the first one that Leonard Chess attended. Tibbs continued to be the company's top seller until well into 1949. Tibbs' output is available on Andrew Tibbs 1947-1951 on the Classics label.

Sunnyland Slim moved to Chicago in 1939 and set up shop as an in-demand piano man, playing for a spell with John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson before waxing eight sides for RCA Victor.  If it hadn't been for Sunnyland, Muddy Waters may not have found his way onto Chess; it was at the Sunnyland's 1947 session for Aristocrat that the Chess brothers made Water's acquaintance. Aristocrat was but one of a myriad of labels that Sunnyland recorded for between 1948 and 1956, cutting sides for Hytone, Opera, Chance, Tempo-Tone, Mercury,  Apollo JOB, Regal, Vee-Jay, Blue Lake, Club 51, and Cobra. An excellent selection of Sunnyland's early sides can be found on the JSP box set Sunnyland Slim And His Pals: The Classic Sides 1947-1953.

Clarence Samuels was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana andbegan his career singing in his father's band. In 1943, he moved to New Orleans, and began singing in local bands. By 1947, he was the manager and house singer at the Down Beat club. At this time, Sammy Goldberg, was working as a talent scout for Aristocrat. He discovered Samuels at the Down Beat, and lured him to Chicago, where Samuels began performing at the Macomba Lounge and made his first recordings for Aristocrat.

Forrest Sykes worked steadily in Chicago from 1947 through 1952. Before that, he seems to have enjoyed a brief tenure as an added attraction in Lionel Hampton's band. He cut five sides for Aristocrat in Oct. 1947, two were unissued including the track we played.

Muddy Waters - Canary BirdMuddy Waters was renowned for his blues-playing prowess across the Delta, but that was about it until 1943, when he left for the bright lights of Chicago. Sunnyland Slim played a large role in launching the career of Muddy Waters. The pianist invited him to provide accompaniment for his 1947 Aristocrat session that would produce "Johnson Machine Gun." One obstacle remained beforehand: Waters had a day gig delivering Venetian blinds. But he wasn't about to let such a golden opportunity slip through his talented fingers. He informed his boss that a fictitious cousin had been murdered in an alley, so he needed a little time off to take care of business. When Sunnyland had finished that auspicious day, Waters sang a pair of numbers, "Little Anna Mae" and "Gypsy Woman," that would become his own Aristocrat debut 78. "I Feel Like Going Home" became his first national R&B hit in 1948.

When Robert Nighthawk stepped into the Aristocrat studios on November 10, 1948 it had been about eight years since he recorded under his own name.  Once in Chicago he resumed his acquaintance with Muddy Waters who he had know down south. Muddy arranged for his recording session with Aristocrat. "I put him on the label" Waters stated.30 Waters further explained: "Well. I taken him to my company, you know and…I helped him get on a record. Yeah, I taken him around to Chess, and then Chess heard him play, and he liked it." He cut three sessions for Aristocrat through early 1950. "Annie Lee Blues" cracked the R&B charts on December 31, 1949 reaching the number 13 spot and staying on the charts for one week.

Blues harpist Forest City Joe was heavily influenced by John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson.Joe was remembered as a "great harp player" by Muddy Waters. Joe was raised in the area around Hughes and West Memphis, AR, and even as a boy played the local juke joints in the area. He hoboed his way through the state working roadhouses and juke joints during the 1940s. Beginning in 1947, he also began working the Chicago area, and a year later had his one and only session for the Chess brothers' Aristocrat label. He made a final session for Atlantic Records in 1959, passing away in 1960.

Robert Nighthawk - Anna LeeLeroy Foster was a charter member of the Headhunters, a band that included Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers. He switched to rhythm guitar to accompany Waters on several of his 1948-49 Aristocrat 78s, notably "You're Gonna Miss Me (When I'm Dead and Gone)," "Mean Red Spider," and "Screamin' and Cryin'," as well as Johnny Jones's rolling "Big Town Playboy." Foster also recorded for Aristocrat as a front man: "Locked Out Boogie" and "Shady Grove Blues" were done at a 1948 date that produced six Muddy masters. All of Foster's recordings can be found on Leroy Foster 1948-1952 on the Classic label.

Johnny Jones established himself as one of the greatest piano players on the Chicago blues scene. Jones was influenced greatly by pianist Big Maceo and followed him into Tampa Red's band in 1947 after Maceo suffered a stroke. Johnny Jones's talents were soon in demand as a sideman — in addition to playing behind Tampa Red for RCA Victor from 1949 to 1953, he backed Muddy Waters on his 1949 classic "Screamin' and Cryin'" and later appeared on sides by Howlin' Wolf. He's best know for baking Elmore James on sessions between 1952-56. Jimmy Rogers, and Leroy Foster backed Jones on his 1949 Aristocrat label classic "Big Town Playboy." In all he cut only eight sides before passing at the age of 40 in 1964.

Jim Brewer LP

I'll Fly Away (MP3)

Libert Bill (MP3)

She Wants To Boogie (MP3)

Good Morning Blues (MP3)

Rocky Mountain (MP3)

St. Louis Blues (MP3)

Corrina (MP3)

Don't You Lie To Me (MP3)

Black, Brown And White (MP3)

It Hurts Me Too (MP3)

Shak-a-You-Boogie (MP3)

Crawlin' King Snake (MP3)

Key To The Highway (MP3)

Jim Brewer died twenty years, on June 3rd 1988, and unless you were a blues collector in the 1960's and 70's it's a safe bet that you may never have heard of this superb bluesman who was under recorded during his lifetime, and these days has just a handful of songs currently scattered on a few CD anthologies. Although he moved from Mississippi to Chicago in 1940, where he resided until his death, his guitar playing was still rooted in the Mississippi style he picked up as a youth. His repertoire as well was formed by the singers he heard, mostly on record or radio, in the 1940's and 50's; singers like Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red, Big Maceo and Peetie Wheatstraw who Brewer ran with in St. Louis for a spell. As he told Paul Oliver: "I went down to St. Louis, spent four or five years down there, woofin' and beefin' aroun' and blowin' my top as usually. An' I met a feller there down on Market and Main and places in East St. Louis, name of Peetie Wheatstraw. …I use to run aroun' with him quite a bit." Gospel music played a large part in Brewer's music and like many musicians of his generation he was torn for awhile between playing blues and playing gospel. Sometime in the late 1950's through the early 1960's he devoted himself almost entirely to gospel. It was in this context that Oliver first encountered him: "We first heard Blind James Brewer playing with a Gospel group which was holding service under the guidance of a fiercely exhorting 'jack-leg' preacher on the broken sidewalk of South Sangamon Street, Chicago, a short step from Brewer's home." Like many bluesman his allegiance to gospel wasn't steadfast as Oliver makes clear: "On another day we heard him with Blind Gray and recorded him playing I'm So Glad Good Whiskey's Back (Heritage HLP 1004)." Brewer was anything if not pragmatic: ""Well lots of people say, 'What profit you in the world if you gain the world and lose your soul?'-Well I realize that's true too. But you got to live down here just like you got to make preparations to go up there. …You got to live this life, and you got to obey God. And God give me this talent and he knew before I came into this world what I was goin' to make out of this talent." While playing on the streets of his hometown of Brookhaven, MS in the 1930’s he learned most of the religious songs that he continued to perform throughout his life. His father told him he could make more money playing blues and as he grew older he started performing at parties having learned his repertoire from records.

Jim Brewer
James Brewer, Photo by Paul Chen

By the mid-1950’s, after roaming around for a bit, he was back in Chicago where he married his wife Fannie. Brewer’s new mother-in-law bought him an electric guitar and amplifier. Returning to Maxwell Street, where he began performing in the early 1940's,  he devoted himself exclusively to religious music. In 1962, however, he was offered an opportunity to play blues at a concert at Northwestern University and also began a regular gig at the No Exit Cafe which lasted for two decades. He went on to play major festivals and clubs in the United States, Canada and Europe. He was recorded by Swedish Radio in 1964, cut sides for the Heritage label, was recoded by Pete Welding who issued the sides on his Testament label was well as Milestone and Storyville, plus cut the full-length albums Jim Brewer (Philo, 1974) and Tough Luck (Earwig, 1983). Brewer was also captured on film performing with his wife on Maxwell Street in 1964 for the documentary And This Is Free.

Jim Brewer - Tough Luck

Kansas City Blues (MP3)

Come Back Baby (MP3)

Rock Me Mama (MP3)

Goin' Away Baby (MP3)

Big Road (MP3)

Long Ways From Home (MP3)

Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad (MP3)

Hair Like A Horse's Mane (MP3)

Poor Kelly (MP3)

Mean Old 'Frisco (MP3)

Tough Luck Blues (MP3)

Oak Top Boogie (MP3)

Pea Vine Whistle (MP3)

Recorded less than a decade apart, Brewer's two full-length albums are marvelous examples of his artistry showcasing him playing solo acoustic on a program of mostly standards. Jim Brewer was recorded live at Kirkland College to an appreciative audience and Brewer seems at his best when working a crowd. Four cuts on Tough Luck were recorded live at the 9th annual Gambier Folk Festival in 1980 while the other numbers were cut in the studio in 1978 and 1982. I think the first album is the stronger of the two and really benefits from the fact that it captures a complete live performance complete with plenty of charming asides to the audience who seem captivated by Brewer's lively singing and guitar playing. Clas Ahlstrand summed up Brewer's guitar style succinctly in a 1967 Blues Unlimited article: "As a blues guitarist Jim Brewer must be considered one of the best in Chicago. His style is complex and filled with an easy, fluent rhythm. It is is definitely not 'Chicago styled, but softer and more 'Country.'" Indeed like his repertoire, which seems frozen in the 1940's and in the traditional songs he heard as a youngster, his guitar playing too seems firmly rooted in a Mississippi country style he learned as a youth. But as Ahlstrand points out, its appeal lies in Brewer's deep sense of rhythm which effortlessly rolls from his fingertips belying the complexity of his playing. This driving complexity is heard to fine effect in the good time numbers "She Wants To Boogie" and "Shak-a-You-Boogie" as well as a gorgeous version of the chestnut "St. Louis Blues" delivered with a seductive drive and sense of humor that invests this well worn tune with brand new sheen. The same can be said on a warmly sung version of "Corrina" and a powerful cover of "Crawlin' King Snake." Brewer plays only one gospel number on these albums, opening up his self titled album with a rousing, sanctified version of "I'll Fly Away" that lasts just over a minute before segueing into "Liberty Bill" which he announces by saying "Now I'm going to play some, some old, you know them way back down home blues." In addition to his guitar skills, Brewer possesses a  powerful yet easygoing voice, often drawing out his lines for dramatic effect.

Brewer's four live cuts from Tough Luck, are every bit as good as the previous album; Brewer is in commanding form on the stark, powerfully sung "Goin' Away Baby", a driving version of Tommy Johnson's timeless "Big Road" and employs a gentle voice and deft fingerpicking to "Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad." There's a reason certain songs have become standards and even though you may have heard "kansas City Blues" umpteen times, artists like Brewer are able to find the very essence of what makes this song so timeless, giving this classic a vivacious reading a feat he also performs on Arthur Crudup's "Mean Old 'Frisco." Brewer is a fine interpreter as he shows on terrific versions of Big Maceo's "Poor Kelley" and "Tough Luck Blues" and Walter Davis' "Come Back Baby", ably translated from piano to guitar. "Oak Top Boogie", a mostly instrumental with spoken asides, is a fine guitar boogie while "Hair Like A Horse's Mane" is a beautiful version of this standard and a song he clearly had an affection for, cutting it originally back in 1964.

Unfortunately Brewer's two LP's are long out of print and only a few of his songs appear on CD; a pair of songs on a couple of Earwig anthologies, his songs for Swedish Radio can be found on the CD I Blueskvarter Chicago 1964, Volume One and a few gospel numbers appear on And This Is Maxwell Street. Brewer remained an in demand musician until the end, and as long time supporter Andy Cohen wrote: "He died with gigs on his calendar."



Show Notes:

Houston Shuffle

We open the show on a somber note with two by Pete Mayes. Mayes, a staple of the Houston scene for the past 50 years, died December 16th at the age of 70. Mayes played guitar with greats like Junior Parker and Bill Doggett and has fronted his own band, the Houserockers, for 40 years.  Mayes owned and maintained the historic Double Bayou Dancehall, which once served as a regular venue for Amos Milburn, Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Joe Turner, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and scores of others.  It was there that Mayes, then just 16 years old, first heard T-Bone Walker who became a major influence. According to his own story, by the age of 14 he had already worked with Lester Williams, although he did not meet T-Bone Walker until 1954. During the next 20 years, he often worked with Walker and made the acquaintance of many other bluesmen who would later come to fame, most prominently Joe Hughes. Mayes' discography is slim with just three full length albums;  Pete's Sake (Antone's, 1998), I'm Ready (Double Trouble, 1986) and Live! At Double Bayou Dance Hall (GoldRhyme Music, 2005). According to The Blues Discography 1943-1970 he cut the following singles: "The Things I Used To Do" (Home Cooking, 1965), "Crazy Woman" (Ovide, 1969) and "Movin' Out" (Ovide, 1969). Our opening tracks, "Crazy Woman" and "Lowdown Feeling" come from the Krazy Kat LP  Houston Shuffle.

Welfare blues 45Lots of vinyl on today's show as I've been trying to organize my LP's and stumbled across some gems I haven't played in a while. On tap today are several fine 1960's and 70's recordings by Guitar Gabriel, Babe Stovall, Willie Guy Rainey, Guitar Slim Green and Sam Chatmon. Guitar Gabriel is familiar to some collectors Nyles Jones, the name under which he recorded the superb LP, My South, My Blues, for the Gemini label in 1970.Mike Leadbitter, writing in Blues Unlimited in 1970, called the single, "Welfare Blues", the most important 45 released that year. He dropped out of sight for about 20 years and his belated return to performing was due largely to folklorist and musician Timothy Duffy, who located Gabriel in 1991. With Duffy accompanying him as second guitarist on acoustic sets and as a member of his band, Brothers in the Kitchen, Gabriel performed frequently at clubs and festivals, and appeared overseas. He recorded several albums for Duffy's Music Maker label before passing in 1996.

West Coast guitarist Slim Green cut "Alla Blues" in 1948, the precursor to Jimmy Wilson's "Tin Pan Alley."  He cut singles in the 40's, 50's and 60's for labels such as J & M Fullbright, Murray, Dig,Canton and Geenote. He 1970 he cut his only full length LP, Stone Down Blues, for Kent backed by Johnny Otis and his son Shuggie. From that album we play the fine protest blues "This War Ain't Right."

Sam Chatmon's Advice

Sam Chatmon began playing music as a child, occasionally with his family's string band, as well as the Mississippi Sheiks. Sam launched his own solo career in the early '30s. While he performed and recorded as a solo act, he would still record with the Mississippi Sheiks and with his brother Lonnie. Throughout the '30s, Sam traveled throughout the south, playing with a variety of minstrel and medicine shows. He stopped traveling in the early '40s, making himself a home in Hollandale, Mississippi, where he worked on plantations. For the next two decades, Sam Chatmon was essentially retired from music and only worked on the plantations. When the blues revival arrived in the late '50s, he managed to capitalize on the genre's resurgent popularity and throughout the '60s and '70s, he recorded for a variety of labels, as well as playing clubs and blues and folk festivals across America. Chatmon was an active performer and recording artist until his death in 1983.

Born in 1907 in Tylertown, MS, Babe Stovall was the youngest of 11 children, most of them musicians. Stovall learned guitar when he was around eight years old, and was soon playing breakdowns, frolics, and parties in the area, even meeting and learning "Big Road Blues" from Tommy Johnson. In 1964 he moved to New Orleans, where he was "discovered" working as a street singer in the French Quarter. He recorded an LP for Verve in 1964, which is were today's selection comes off, simply titled Babe Stovall, and did further sessions in 1966 and with Bob West in 1968 and became active on the folk and blues college circuit. He died in 1974.

Willie Guy Rainey was a blues musician from Georgia who became a popular performing artist in the Atlanta area in the 1970's. Through the promotion of musician Ross Kapstein and the recording of a self-titled album in 1978 for Southland, Rainey (at 77 years old) went on tour, which eventually led to overseas tours. He died in 1983.

Esther Phillips Burnin'We also spotlight several fine vocalists including Helen Humes, Esther Phillips, Bobby Bland, Junior Parker and Jimmy Witherspoon. Helen Humes is in fine form on 1951's "I Ain't In The Mood" an answer song to John Lee Hooker's recent chart-topper titled "I Ain't in the Mood." Esther Phillips has long been a favorite and she sizzles on a reading of "I'm Gettin' 'Long Alright" recorded live at Freddie Jett's Pied Piper club from the terrific album Burnin'. In 1999 Collectables released Burnin 'paired with Confessin' the Blues, two of her finest records on one CD. From Jimmy Witherspoon we spin "Parcel Post Blues" from the Bluesway album Hunh! featuring an all-star lineup of Charles Brown (piano), Red Holloway (sax) and Earl Hooker and Mel Brown on guitars. Junior Parker is another favorite of mine and a great song interpreter as he proves on his cover of the chestnut "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water." This comes from the excellent album I Tell Stories Sad And True from 1972 which unfortunately is out of print.

Other interesting tracks today include numbers by Will Ezell, Victoria Spivey, and some fine field recordings made by George Mitchell. 1929's "Playing The Dozen" is by great barrelhouse pianist Will Ezell who cut fourteen sides for Paramount between 1927 and 1929. He also backed artists such as Lucille Bogan, Blind Roosevelt Grave, Ethel Waters and others. Speaking of great pianists that's Little Brother Montgomery backing Victoria Spivey along with Lonnie Johnson on "Every Dog Has Its Day" from 1964. George Mitchell recorded some incredible music in his over twenty years of field recording and considered Cecil Barfield among his greatest discoveries. Barfield's repertoire was mostly covers but he truly sounded like no one else as he proves on his version of "Bottle Up And Go." By the way, Mitchell also wrote the notes to the above mentioned Willie Guy Rainey LP.

We wrap up with a trio of 1960's sides by great soul and blues artist Robert Ward who passed away on Christmas day after a long struggle with health issues. Like many, I first heard Robert Ward when his magnificent Fear No Evil debuted on Black Top in 1990 and was unaware of his earlier recordings. His subsequent Black Top follow-ups, Rhythm Of The People (1993) and Black Bottom (1995), were less inspired with the latter definitely the better of the two. After a five year absence he returned to form with his Hot Stuffmarvelous Delmark debut New Role Soul (2001). It wasn't until the Black Top records that I became aware of Ward's 1960's recordings which were thankfully collected on the album Hot Stuff (1995) on Relic. These sides spotlighted the recordings Ward cut as leader of the Ohio Untouchables (who later morphed into the Ohio Players long after Ward's departure) for tiny labels like LuPine, Thelma, and Groove City. These are fiery and soulful sides featuring Ward's trademark watery guitar playing and passionate vocals on numbers like "I'm Tired", "Your Love Is Real", "Something For Nothing" and "Fear No Evil." Also included are four classic cuts by the Falcons from 1962 sporting lead vocals by Wilson Pickett with the Untouchables in support on the soaring smash hit "I Found A Love" and "Let's Kiss and Make Up" with some sizzling guitar from Ward.



Tampa red

Show Notes:

During his heyday in the 1920's and 30's, Tampa Red was billed as "The Guitar Wizard," and his stunning slide work on steel National or electric guitar shows why he earned the title. His 25 year recording career produced hundreds of sides: hokum, pop, and jive, but mostly blues (including classic compositions "Anna Lou Blues," "Black Angel Blues," "Crying Won't Help You," "It Hurts Me Too," and "Love Her with a Feeling"). Early in Red's career, he teamed up with pianist, songwriter, and latter-day gospel composer Georgia Tom Dorsey, collaborating on double entendre classics like "Tight Like That." Tampa's slide playing was widely admired and influential on the likes of Robert Nighthawk, Elmore James and Earl Hooker. Jim O'Neal neatly summed up Tampa's place in blues history when he wrote the following in 1975: "Few figures have been as important in blues history as Tampa Red; yet no bluesman of such stature has been so ignored by today's blues audience. As a composer, recording artist, musical trendsetter and one of the premier urban blues guitarists of his day, Tampa Red remained popular with black record buyers for more than 20 years and exerted considerable influence on many post-World War II blues stars who earned greater acclaim for playing Tampa's songs than Tampa himself often did."

Tight Like ThatTampa was born Hudson Woodbridge in Smithville, Georgia with various birth dates given between 1900 and 1908. His parents died when he was a child, and he moved to Tampa, Florida, where he was raised by his aunt and grandmother and adopted their surname, Whittaker. He emulated his older brother, Eddie, who played guitar, and he was especially inspired by an old street musician called Piccolo Pete, who first taught him to play blues licks on a guitar. In the 1920's, having already perfected his slide technique, he moved to Chicago, Illinois, and began his career as a musician, adopting the name "Tampa Red" from his childhood home and red hair.

In the 1920's, having already perfected his slide technique, he moved to Chicago, Illinois, and began his career as a musician. His big break was being hired to accompany Ma Rainey and he began recording in 1928. In 1928 Whittaker, through the intercession of J. Mayo "Ink" Williams, teamed up with pianist Thomas Dorsey a. k. a. Georgia Tom and recorded the Paramount label hit "Tight Like That"-a number based upon Blind Blake's "Too Tight" and Papa Charlie Jackson's "Shake That Thing." With "It's Tight Like That", in a bawdy and humorous style that became known as "hokum." The success of "Tight Like That" prompted several other record other versions for Paramount, and initiated the blues genre known as hokum Early recordings were mostly collaborations with Thomas A. Dorsey, known at the time as Georgia Tom. Tampa Red and Georgia Tom recorded almost 60 sides, sometimes as "The Hokum Boys" or, with Frankie Jaxon, as "Tampa Red's Hokum Jug Band". Tampa had actually met Georgia Tom around 1925 and Tom recalled those early years: "We played Memphis, I think Louisville, down to Nashville; we was down in Tennessee, or in Mississippi just across he line. We recorded in Memphis at the Peabody Hotel in 1929), and I left him down in Memphis and he got another week's at the Palace Theater there. They liked him so well they hired him with just he and his guitar. …We played just anywhere. Party, theater, dance hall, juke joint. All black. See we wasn't high-powered enough. Other fellows who were in the high music echelon got those jobs with the whites. The money was bigger up there." Outside the studio Tom and Tampa worked together or separately joined sometime by their frequent studio partner, Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon who primarily played the night clubs.

In 1928, Tampa Red became the one of the first bluesmen to play a National steel-bodied resonator guitar, Mama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Herethe loudest and showiest guitar available before amplification; acquiring one in the first year they were available. This allowed him to develop his trademark bottleneck style, playing single string runs, not block chords, which was a precursor to later blues and rock guitar soloing. The National guitar he used was a gold-plated tricone, which was found in Illinois in the 1990s and later sold to the "Experience Music Project" in Seattle. Tampa Red was known as "The Man With The Gold Guitar", and, into the 1930s, he was billed as "The Guitar Wizard".

When Dorsey left the blues field in 1932 to take up a career as gospel songwriter and choir director, Tampa continued his path of fame as blues artist. In 1934 he launched his fruitful career with the Victor/Bluebird label. Following the repeal of prohibition in 1933, venues for blues music proliferated in Chicago, and Tampa Red became one of the city's hottest live acts, often with the backing of his band, the Chicago Five. With his close friends Big Bill Broonzy and Lester Melrose, a producer for Bluebird Records, Tampa Red was a leader of the Chicago scene. In 1934 he signed for Victor Records. He formed the Chicago Five, a group of session musicians who created what became known as the Bluebird sound, a precursor of the small group style of later jump blues and rock and roll bands. He was a close friend and associate of Big Bill Broonzy and Big Maceo Merriweather. His wife, Frances, acted as his business manager, and Tampa's house served as the blues community's rehearsal hall and an informal booking agency. According to the testimony of Broonzy and Big Joe Williams, Red cared for other musicians by offering them a meal and a place to stay and generally easing their transition from country to city life. A frequent visitor to Whittaker's apartment, Willie Dixon recalled, in I Am the Blues, how "Tampa Red's house was a madhouse with old-time musicians. Lester Melrose would be drinking all the time and Tampa Red's wife would be cooking chicken." After the signing with Victor/bluebird Tampa stuck to Chicago and found steady work at a club across the street from his house called the H&T. Blind John Davis, who met Tampa in 1936, recalled: "Tampa's the onliest one I know could could close his eyes and run across the street and run right into his job. And he worked there for about eight or nine years."

Tampa redThrough the 1940's Tampa remained a prime seller among black audiences with hits like "Let Me Play With Your Poodle" and "She Wants To Sell My Monkey." During his Bluebird stint, between 1934 and 1953, he recorded over 200 sides. In addition to recordings he regularly played the clubs such as Club Georgia, the Flame Club, Sylvio's, the Purple Cat , the 708 club, the Zanzibar, the Peacock and the C&T Lounge all of which were black clubs on Chicago's South and West sides. Tampa's music continued to evolve as Jim O'Neal notes: "…He was right there swinging with horns when big band jump blues were in fashion, and he had the boogie numbers down, too; even on his last Victor sessions he had adapted to the mainstream '50's Chicago blues sound with featured harmonica backing from Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) and Big Walter Horton. He was following trends, but setting them too with numbers that many other bluesmen were to re-record in later years. …Less frequently was Tamap a solo act; Big Maceo teamed up with him for for a while, and after Maceo suffered a stroke, Sunnyland Slim filled in until Maceo's protege  Johnnie Jones took over on piano. By now Tampa also had added support from a drummer, Odie Payne Jr., and Johnnie would sing about half the numbers when he, Tampa, and Odie worked the Peacock and the C&T in 1949. Johnnie also sang on at least a dozen of Tampa's later records." His last hit was 1949's "When Things Go Wrong With You (it Hurts Me Too)" which briefly hit the national R&B charts. By the early 1950's Tampa rarely played the clubs anymore and he made his final commercial recording for Victor in 1953.

Tampa & Pals
Left to right, standing: Jazz Gillum, Tampa Red and Little Bill Gaither. Sitting: Jack Dupree and Big Bill with Tampa's dog which "drank whiskey just like we did and helped us sing."

His wife's death in 1953 was a blow from which Tampa Red never recovered. He had always been a heavy drinker, and his alcoholism became acute. Like many of his contemporaries, he was "rediscovered" by a new audience in the late 1950s. At this time, Samuel Charters also encountered the once-famed guitarist. In his work Country Blues, Charters recalled Whittaker's life during this period of musical retirement: "He lives quietly, a dignified, gentle little man, usually wearing a buttoned sweater, his shoes carefully polished. He spends his afternoons visiting friends, walking along the rows of brownstone apartments that line the streets of his neighborhood, a scarf carefully folded around his neck and his overcoat collar turned up. He still owns a guitar, but hasn't played much in recent years." He went back into the studio in 1960 [two solo records for Prestige/Bluesville], but his final recordings were undistinguished." He showed little interest in returning to music or talking to interviewers. Tampa passed away in Chicago in 1981.


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