Show Notes:

We open our latest mix show with a quartet of songs revolving around the Chatmon brothers including numbers by Bo Carter, Mississippi Blacksnakes, The Mississippi Sheiks and Sam Chatmon. One of the most popular bluesmen of the '30's, Bo Carter cut over a hundred sides between 1928 and 1940. Bo and his brothers Lonnie and Sam Chatmon also recorded as members of the Mississippi Sheiks with singer/guitarist Walter Vinson. Bo died in 1964 but Sam hung in long enough to take advantage of the blues revival, recording prolifically in the 1960's and 70's. Unfortunately most all of the LP's he cut seem to be out-of-print. Today's selection, "Hollandale Blues", is from the 1979 Rounder album, Sam Chatmon's Advice. The Mississippi Blacksnakes cut ten songs over three sessions in 1931for Brunswick with the likley personal of Luke Bo and Sam Chatmon, Charlie McCoy with Walter Vinscon only on the first session.

Moving up to the 1960's and 70's we spin some great records by some lesser known players including Luke "Long Gone" Miles, Lum Guffin, Frank Hovington and John Lee Ziegler. Luke Miles was born in Louisiana in 1925 and moved to Houston in 1952. In the liner notes to his only full length LP Country Born (World Pacific, 1965) he said: "I went to Houston for one reason. I went to see Lightnin' Hopkins. That's what I went for and that's what I did. Lightnin' Hopkins taught me just about everything about blues singing. The first time I ever sang in front of an audience was in 1952 with Lightnin'. The first day I met Lightnin' he named me "Long Gone" …and I've been Long Gone Miles ever since." By 1961 Miles was in Los Angles were he cut some 45's for Smash. After the World Pacific LP he cut singles for Two Kings in 1965, Kent in 1969 before supposedly leaving L.A. in 1970. Our selection comes from the LP Country Boy (Sundown, 1984) which is a collection of mostly unreleased sides from  1961 and 1962. Just recently a liver CD of of Miles surfaced from 1985 titled Riding Around In My V8 Ford Live in Venice, California. He died in 1987. Unfortunately just about all of Miles' recordings remain out of print.

The other gentleman were recorded in the 1970's, an extension you could say of the 1960's blues revival that swept up many fine bluesman who never got the opportunity to record in their younger days. Lum Guffin was first recorded in the 1970's by Swedish researcher Bengt Olsson when he was 70 and again in 1980 by Axel Kunster for the Living Country Blues series. The LP Walking Victrola was his sole record, released on the Flyright label in 1973. Some of these recordings appear on the CD On The Road Again. Frank Hovington was an exceptional guitarist in the Piedmont tradition who was reluctant to record but made some superb recordings in 1975 released (issued on the LP Lonesome Road Blues first on Flyright and then on Rounder with additional tracks on the CD Gone With The Wind) and 1980 for the Living Country Blues series. Ziegler passed away May of last year. He cut just a handful of recordings, the best recorded by George Mitchell in the late 1970's plus some sides made in the 1990's and issued on the Music Maker label.

John Lee Hooker: Urban BluesWe play a twin spin by John Lee Hooker from his Bluesway years. Hooker cut several albums for Bluesway in the 1960's including: Live At Cafe Au-Go-Go (1966), Urban Blues (1967), Simply The Truth (1968), If You Miss 'Im… I Got 'Im (1970)and Kabuki Wuki (1973). Our selections come from Simply The Truth and the excellent Urban Blues featuring Hooker in the company of sidemen like Eddie Taylor, Wayne Bennett, and Louis Myers. Bluesway has been ill served reissue wise, with only a handful of releases issued on CD, usually by labels other than the parent company MCA, and in many cases these CD's themselves are out of print. I'll be doing a show on the label in the near future.  Urban Blues was issued on CD in 1994 by BGO with three bonus cuts. One of those bonus cut is the stomping "I Gotta Go To Vietnam" featuring some wild wah wah guitar from Hooker's cousin Earl Hooker. The "The Motor City Is Burning" is a harrowing account of the 1967 Detroit riots. The flash point began at a drinking joint at Twelfth Street and Clairmount Avenue and quickly spread out. Looting and fires spread through the Northwest side of Detroit, then crossed over to the East Side. Within 48 hours, the National Guard was mobilized, to be followed by the 82nd airborne on the riot’s fourth day. As police and military troops sought to regain control of the city, violence escalated. At the conclusion of 5 days of rioting, 43 people lay dead, 1189 injured and over 7000 people had been arrested. Hooker gives a vivid account of the action:

Ohhh the Motor City is burning, ain't a thing in the world that I can do
Don't you know, don't you know the big D is burning
Ain't a thing in the world that Johnny can do
My hometown is burning down to the ground, worster than Vietnam

Well it started on Twelfth Street and Clairmount this morning, I just don't know what it's all about (2x)
The fire wagon kept coming, the snipers just wouldn't let them put it out
Firebombs bursting all around me, soldiers standing everywhere (2x)
I could hear the people screaming, sirens filled the air

Doctor Clayton
Doctor Clayton

Also on deck today are some prime 1940's Chicago blues by Sonny Boy Williamson I, Yank Rachel, Washboard Sam and Doctor Clayton. At the time of his untimely death in 1948 at the age of 34, Sonny Boy was still at his creative peak as she proves on "Sugar Gal" from 1947, a storming update of his classic "Sugar Mama Blues" with a some killer electric guitar from William Lacey. Rachel's "Up North Blues (There's A Reason)" from 194 sports some wonderful playing by Sonny Boy and is just one of a batch of sides they cut together between 1938 and 1941. Also on that track is the prolific Washboard Sam who is also heard on his "My Feet Jumped Salty" featuring some stunning amplified guitar from Big Bill Broonzy. Both Sonny Boy I and Washboard Sam will be featured in upcoming programs. Nearly 50 years after his untimely death the exceptional singer and masterful songwriter known as Doctor Clayton is little spoken of today. Clayton worked strictly as a vocalist (by some accounts he could play piano and ukulele), employing an impressive falsetto technique, later refined into a powerful, swooping style that was instantly recognizable. In addition he was an unparalleled songwriter, writing mostly original material with a rare wit, intelligence and social awareness. Clayton's vocal style was widely emulated and a number of his songs became blues standards. Despite the high esteem he was held in by fellow blues artists and his popularity during his lifetime Clayton's fine blues recordings remain largely ignored. "Watch Out Mama" is a fine example of his songwriting, filled with a dash of violence and humor:

You clown when you get ready, stay out late as you please
Come home drunk and staggering, and weak in your knees
But watch out momma, Doctor Clayton gonna sneak up on you
Yes, I'm gonna whip your nappy head, just as soon as I find you

As usual we spin some fine piano records including tracks by Big Maceo, Sammy Price and Robert McCoy. Robert McCoy: Bye Bye Baby BluesAlongside his protege Johnnie Jones and later Otis Spann, Big Maceo is among the greatest Chicago piano men. During the 1940's he worked with Tampa Red and the duo made some magnifecnt sides including our selection, the romping "Texas Stomp." Sammy Price fine boogie woogie playing is heard backing Nora Lee King on "Cannon Ball" her uptown rendition of Cow Cow Davenport's immortal "Cow Cow Blues." King cut a dozen sides between 1941and 1944 before fading into obscurity. Alabama barrelhouse pianist Robert McCoy had two rare LPs in the early 1960's on the Vulcan label. A few years back Delmark acquired the masters and reissued the material on CD for the first time with many previously unissued tracks. Unfortunatley no tracks from his second Vulcan album have been included. These were his first recordings as leader although he recorded in the 1930's accompanying Guitar Slim, Jaybird Coleman and Peanut The Kidnapper. McCoy was part of the fertile Birmingham piano tradition, learning piano from Cow Cow Davenport and Jabbo Williams.



Show Notes:

Detriot Ghetto Blues LP

African-Americans began arriving in drove in Detroit by the 1920's, most settling in an area called Black Bottom, later named Paradise Valley. Some of the earliest blues took place in the bars, brothels and house parties in Paradise Valley. Among the early bluesman who worked in Detroit included several fine pianists like Speckled Red, Charlie Spand, Big Maceo, Will Ezell plus guitarists like Calvin Frazier and Blind Blake who cut who celebrated the city in songs like "Hastings Street" with Charlie Spand and "Detroit Bound."

From the turn of the century until its demise by urban renewal in the early 1960's, Hastings Street remained the center of business for Detroit's east side community, made up largely of Jewish entrepreneurs and small black business owners.  Lined with two-story family-owned shops and corner taverns, Hastings teemed by day with shoppers; at night it became transformed, into, what John Lee Hooker later described, as a "rough wide-open street." Though the city had a number of corner taverns during the 1940s and 1950s, which featured down home blues, numerous Detroit bluesmen found their first jobs in the house party scene. Among the early clubs were places like Henry's Swing club celebrated in a song by John Lee Hooker, the Harlem Inn, The Palms, The Flame, Club Three Sixes and the Paradise Theater. While many artists, like Big Maceo, went to Chicago to record, there were a number of small local labels that documented the scene like Sensation, JVB, DeLuxe, Holiday, Staff and Fortune. With the demolition of Hasting Street in the 1950's and early 60's and the rise of Motown, blues in Detroit became overshadowed.

Boogie Rambler 78Today's show focuses on recordings made from the late 1940's on up spotlighting great Detroit artists like John Lee Hooker, Baby Boy Warren, Eddie Burns, Eddie Kirkland, Big Maceo, Boogie Woogie Red, Bobo Jenkins Calvin Frazier and more.

John Lee Hooker was the biggest star to emerge from the Detroit scene. Hooker headed to Memphis while he was still in his teens, but he couldn't gain much of a foothold there. He then relocated to Cincinnati for a seven-year stretch before making the move to the Motor City in 1943. Hooker began playing in burgeoning club scene along Hastings Street and at house parties. In 1948 he hooked up with entrepreneur Bernie Besman (who ran Sensation label) , who helped him hammer out his solo debut sides, "Sally Mae" and its seminal flip, "Boogie Chillen." The Los Angeles-based Modern Records issued the sides and "Boogie Chillen" made it to the peak of the R&B charts. Besman felt that Hooker would sound best if he was recorded as a soloist, and did a lot to give his guitar and voice distinctive sound. He put a mike on Hooker's guitar, and put a speaker in a toilet bowl for echo. He also put a board under Hooker's feet to pick up his tapping feet. One of his innovative ideas was to double-track the voice and guitar for "I'm in the Mood," a technique that was very advanced for 1951; the result was another huge hit. Besman did plenty of sides with Hooker in the late 1940's and early 1950s, often solo, but sometimes with accompanying musicians. When he moved to California in the early '50s, Besman ended his association with Hooker and left the record business Along with Modern, Hooker recorded for King (as Texas Slim), Regent (as Delta John), Savoy (as Birmingham Sam & His Magic Guitar), Danceland (as Little Pork Chops), Staff (as Johnny Williams), Sensation, Gotham, Regal, Swing Time, Federal, Gone (as John Lee Booker), Chess, Acorn (as the Boogie Man), Chance, DeLuxe (as Johnny Lee), JVB, Chart, and Specialty; before finally settling down at Vee-Jay in 1955 under his own name.

Eddie Burns - Dealing With The Devil Two artists closely linked to Hooker are Eddie Burns and Eddie Kirkland. "Papa's Boogie," Eddie Burns' 1948 debut, is a harmonica/guitar duet recorded by Bernie Bessman and leased to the Holiday label, which issued it under the pseudonym Slim Pickens. Burns enjoyed a modestly successful musical career with a dozen records to his credit and a decade of weekend club gigs often with John Lee Hooker who waxed some of his best performances with Burn's harmonica in support. Kirkland was brought up around Dothan, AL, before heading north to Detroit in 1943. There he hooked up with Hooker five years later, recording with him for several firms as well as under his own name for RPM in 1952, King in 1953, and Fortune in 1959. Exiting the Motor City for Macon, GA, in 1962, Kirkland signed on with Otis Redding as a sideman and show opener not long thereafter. By the dawn of the 1970s', Kirkland was recording for Pete Lowry's Trix labe and waxed several CD's for Deluge in the '90s.

Many artists got their start through Detroit record man Joe Von Battle. Recording his sessions from within a cluttered record shop on Detroit's Hastings Street that he opened in 1948, Von Battle was a magnet for most of the Motor City's blues and R&B talent, including such notables as John Lee Hooker, Eddie Kirkland, Eddie Burns plus a slew of lesser knowns. His efforts were issued on his JVB and Von labels. From its Cincinnati base, King Records would sometimes acquire masters from Detroit-based producers like Battle. Battle's approach to ‘producing' may have amounted to little more than turning the tape machine on and off but, in his ramshackle way, he preserved some great Detroit blues performances. "Pet Milk Blues" was the first release on first release by Joe Von Battle. Featuring Walter Mitchell's own vocal and harp, second harp by Robert Richard, Boogie Woogie Red on piano, and an unknown bass. Mitchell cut six sides for JVB in 1948, with some leased to King, and cut two more sides in for Strate-8 in 1959. Guitarist L.C. Green came to Detroit in the late forties according to his one time partner, Woodrow Adams, who grew up with L.C. in Minter City, Mississippi. Green waxed seven songs in Detroit for Joe Von Battle, but six were leased out and only one appeared on the Von label. Nothing is know of fine bluesman James Walton who cut about a dozen-and-a-half sides for Detroit labels like JVB, Fortune and Big Star between 1954 and 1964.

A Fortune Of Blues A Fortune Of Blues

Fortune Records was another notable Detroit label.Fortune specialized in R&B, blues, soul and doo-wop music, although the label also released pop, big band, hillbilly, gospel, rock 'n' roll, and even polka records. In spite of the spartan facilities, the company would produce some of the best preMotown R&B to come out of the city. Among the blues artists who recorded for the label were John Lee Hooker, Eddie Kirkland, Big Maceo, Bobo Jenkins, Doctor Ross, Grace Brim and Joe Weaver among others. It is estimated that Fortune Records and its subsidiaries, Hi-Q Records and Strate-8, released approximately 400 45-RPM vinyl records, as well as long-playing albums, during its existence. In the 1950's Joe Weaver formed the Blue Notes typically practiced at producer/JVB label owner Joe Von Battle's Hastings Street record store. Soon after Fortune hired the Blue Notes as its house band, and in addition to backing acts like Andre Williams and Nolan Strong, they also headlined records of their own. The Blue Note Orchestra's stature as Detroit's premier session band was firmly in place by the time Berry Gordy, Jr. hired their services for his fledgling Tamla label.

Big Maceo was already a seasoned pianist when he arrived in Detroit in 1924. After working around the Motor City scene, he headed to Chicago in 1941 to make his recording debut for Bluebird. He cut a series of terrific sessions as a leader for Bluebird in 1941-42, 1945 and in the company of Tampa Red before a stroke paralyzed his right side. He tried to overcome it, cutting for Victor in 1947 with Eddie Boyd assuming piano duties and again for Specialty in 1949 with Johnny Jones, this time at the stool. He cut his final sessions for Fortune in 1950 before passing in 1953.

Baby Boy Warren - Hello StrangerRobert "Baby Boy" Warren cut some great records from 1949 to 1954 for a variety of Detroit labels without ever managing to transcend his local status along Hastings Street. After honing his blues guitar approach in Memphis (where he was raised), Warren came to Detroit in 1942 to work for General Motors and gig on the side. The fruits of his first recording session in 1949 with pianist Charley Mills supporting him came out on several different logos: Prize, Staff, Gotham, even King's Federal subsidiary. A second date in 1950 that found him backed by pianist Boogie Woogie Red was split between Staff and Sampson while another sessions came out on Swing Time, Blue Lake and Excello. One of his most memorable sessions took place in 1954, when harpist Sonny Boy Williamson came to Detroit and backed Warren. The 1970s brought  Warren a some European touring  before he passed away in 1977.

Calvin Frazier began his career performing alongside his brothers, and in the company of Johnny Shines. He traveled to Helena, Arkansas in 1930 where they met Robert Johnson, and together the three men  journeyed north to Detroit, where they sang hymns on area gospel broadcasts. Upon returning south, Frazier and Johnson also joined with drummer Peck Curtis in a string-band combo. However, in 1935 Frazier was wounded in a Memphis shootout, which left another man dead; he fled back to Detroit, marrying Shines' cousin. Apart from gigs supporting the likes of Big Maceo, Rice Miller and Baby Boy Warren, he resurfaced in 1938 long enough to cut a session for folklorist Alan Lomax. He did not record again until a 1951 date with T.J. Fowler's jump band, and entered the studio one last time in 1954 with Baby Boy Warren. Frazier continued performing in the Detroit until his death on September 23, 1972.

It wasn't until Washboard Willie AKA William Hensley was 31 years old that he decided to buy a washboard and begin to make music on it. He bought a wood and metal washboard, fastened a four-inch frying pan to one corner, put eight metal thimbles on his fingers, tied the board around his neck with a dog leash, and started beating away. In 1948 he moved north to Detroit and wasn't until 1952, that he and a friend were out one night looking for John Lee Hooker, when they came upon Eddie Burns and his little group, playing at the Harlem Inn. After hearing the drummer playing out of time, Willie got his washboard from the car, and began playing along with the band. By the second song, the bar owner offered Hensley a job playing the washboard for the weekend. The band played there for three years. In 1956, he and Calvin Frazier recorded for Joe Von Battle. He continued to record for Von Battle from 1957 to 1962. In 1973, he toured with the American Blues Legends '73 Tour, traveling all over Europe. He died on August 24, 1991, at the age of 82, in Detroit.

Playboy and Rocky Fuller are both early pseudonyms for New Orleans born Iverson Minter, who later had minor success using the name Louisiana Red. The sides included here are his first and typically were recorded in Von Battle's basement.

Adams was raised in Detroit, Michigan by a relative, and got her break in the 1940s performing in a club on Hastings Street. Soon after she landed a recording contract with Chess Records and recorded alongside Red Saunders for the label. Her solo career did not lift off until the 1990's, when she landed a contract with the now defunct Cannonball Records and recorded two albums for them. Adams recently returned to the studio at 91 years of age and recorded Detroit Is My Home for the same label,

T.J. Fowler assembled his own band and in 1947 accompanied saxophonist Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams on that artist's first recordings for the Savoy label. Fowler began making records as a leader in 1948, beginning with small Detroit labels like Paradise and Sensation and landing his own contract with Savoy in 1952, sometimes featuring singer Alberta Adams. Fowler's ensemble also used guitarist Calvin Frazier. In Detroit, Fowler and his men served as the backing band for T-Bone Walker and spent the next few years gigging around the Motor City and southeastern Michigan. Hired in 1959 by Berry Gordy, Fowler applied his music industry know-how to help Gordy create and establish the Motown record label. Fowler died in 1982.

Numbers Blues
Call The Doctor

Dr. Ross decided to fire his sidemen and carry on as a one-man band. A strong vocalist and excellent songwriter, Ross gained early experience playing Delta jukes and eventually landed radio shows in Clarksdale and Memphis, where he also recorded for Sam Phillips's Sun label. At the peak of Ross's career, he quit Sun, concerned that his royalties were being used to promote Elvis Presley's recordings. Relocating in Michigan, he recorded for his own label and for several Detroit labels, while working for General Motors. Returning to music as a recording artist, he worked the festival circuit. Ross died May 28, 1993, and was buried in Flint, MI.

Though a Louisiana native, Vernon Harrison aka Boogie Woogie Red has been associated with the Detroit blues sound as long as anyone. A Motor City resident since 1927, he began performing in the local clubs as a teenager. As a sideman he worked locally with Sonny Boy Williamson, Baby Boy Warren, and John Lee Hooker. Despite Red's renown for the blues and boogie-woogie style that earned him his nickname, he has recorded only a few times as a featured artist, and aside from a bit of European touring in the '70s, he remained a local Detroit treasure, rarely appearing outside the area. He died in 1985.

Little Sonny moved to the Motor City in 1953 after growing up on his dad's farm in Alabama.  Little Sonny worked the local haunts with John Lee Hooker, Eddie Burns, Eddie Kirkland, Baby Boy Warren, and Washboard Willie. In 1958, Sonny made his blues-recording debut, cutting for both Duke and local entrepreneur Joe Von Battle, who leased Little Sonny's "Love Shock" to Nashville's Excello label. During the early '60s, he ran his tiny Speedway label. He leased "The Creeper" and "Latin Soul" to Detroit's Revilot Records in 1966. That set the stage for his joining Stax's Enterprise label in 1970; his first album was the largely instrumental New King of the Blues Harmonica. Two more Enterprise sets soon followed: Black & Blue and 1973's Hard Goin' Up. Not much was heard of the harpist in recent years until the British Sequel imprint released Sonny Side Up in 1995.

After his discharge from the army in 1944, Bobo Jenkins moved to Detroit. He soon got a job at the Packard Motor Company and on the side, managed a garage, before landing a job at Chrysler, where he worked for 27 years. He also got a job taking pictures at the Harlem Inn where John Lee Hooker was playing. Jenkins soon bought a guitar and began writing songs. In 1954, with the help of John Lee Hooker, "Democrat Blues" was recorded in Chicago for Chess Records. He recorded two more singles for the Boxer label in Chicago and Fortune Records in Detroit. he eventually formed his own label.The first record released on Jenkins' Big Star label was his own: "You"ll Never Understand" and "Tell Me Where You Stayed Last Night." Soon he was recording and promoting local Detroit musicians. In 1972 he put out his first album on his Big Star label called The Life of Bobo Jenkins. The 1973 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival featured a special Detroit Blues Review and Jenkins was one of the stars. The next album by Jenkins came out in 1974, called Here I Am a Fool in Love Again on Big Star. In 1977 Detroit All Purpose Blues, was issued. In 1982, he went to Europe for his first tour, but due to poor health he returned home after the first concert. A long illness ultimately led to his death on August 14, 1984.



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."


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