Monday, November 30, 2009

J.B. Lenoir's Unique Blues

J.B. Lenoir- Alabama Blues!

"Newcomers to his considerable legacy could be forgiven for questioning J.B. Lenoir's gender upon first hearing his rocking waxings. Lenoir's exceptionally high-pitched vocal range is a fooler, but it only adds to the singular appeal of his music. His politically charged "Eisenhower Blues" allegedly caused all sorts of nasty repercussions upon its 1954 emergence on Al Benson's Parrot logo (it was quickly pulled off the shelves and replaced with Lenoir's less controversially titled "Tax Paying Blues").

J.B. (that was his entire legal handle) fell under the spell of Blind Lemon Jefferson as a wee lad, thanks to his guitar-wielding dad. Lightnin' Hopkins and Arthur Crudup were also cited as early influences. Lenoir spent time in New Orleans before arriving in Chicago in the late '40s. Boogie grooves were integral to Lenoir's infectious routine from the get-go, although his first single for Chess in 1951, "Korea Blues," was another slice of topical commentary. From late 1951 to 1953, he waxed several dates for Joe Brown's JOB logo in the company of pianist Sunnyland Slim, drummer Alfred Wallace, and on the romping "The Mojo," saxist J.T. Brown.

Lenoir waxed his most enduring piece, the infectious (and often-covered) "Mama Talk to Your Daughter," in 1954 for Al Benson's Parrot label. Lenoir's 1954-55 Parrot output and 1955-58 Checker catalog contained a raft of terrific performances, including a humorously defiant "Don't Touch My Head" (detailing his brand-new process hairdo) and "Natural Man." Lenoir's sound was unique: saxes (usually Alex Atkins and Ernest Cotton) wailed in unison behind Lenoir's boogie-driven rhythm guitar as drummer Al Galvin pounded out a rudimentary backbeat everywhere but where it customarily lays. Somehow, it all fit together.

Scattered singles for Shad in 1958 and Vee-Jay two years later kept Lenoir's name in the public eye. His music was growing substantially by the time he hooked up with USA Records in 1963 (witness the 45's billing: J.B. Lenoir & his African Hunch Rhythm). Even more unusual were the two acoustic albums he cut for German blues promoter Horst Lippmann in 1965 and 1966. Alabama Blues and Down in Mississippi were done in Chicago under Willie Dixon's supervision, Lenoir now free to elaborate on whatever troubled his mind ("Alabama March," "Vietnam Blues," "Shot on James Meredith").

Little did Lenoir know his time was quickly running out. By the time of his 1967 death, the guitarist had moved to downstate Champaign -- and that's where he died, probably as a delayed result of an auto accident he was involved in three weeks prior to his actual death."

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Popular Music Has A Name

Alberta Hunter- Alberta Hunter With Lovie Austin And Her Blues Serenaders

"Alberta Hunter was a pioneering African-American popular singer whose path crosses the streams of jazz, blues and pop music. While she made important contributions to all of these stylistic genres, she is claimed exclusively by no single mode of endeavor. Hunter recorded in six decades of the twentieth century, and enjoyed a career in music that outlasted most human lives.

Hunter was born in Memphis, and depending on which account you read, she either ran away from home or her family relocated to Chicago when she was 12-years-old. Her career began in the bawdy houses on the south side of Chicago, probably in 1911 or 1912, although she claimed 1909. Early on she married, but ultimately discovered she preferred women to men. In Chicago Hunter worked with legendary pianist Tony Jackson, was good friends with King Oliver's pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong, and even sang in white clubs. But working in these violent, rough-and-tumble nighteries was dangerous business, and not long after an incident where Hunter's piano accompanist was killed by a stray bullet, she decided to try her talent in New York.

Not long after she arrived, Hunter made contact with the Harry Pace and his Black Swan Records concern. Hunter's initial records for Black Swan, made in May 1921, were the first blues vocals recorded by the company. Later, after Paramount acquired Black Swan, these sides were co-mingled with Hunter's newer Paramount recordings; her work from both labels dominated the early couplings in the Paramount 12000 Race series. Her recordings were also pressed up for labels like Puritan, Harmograph, and Silvertone under pseudonyms such as Josephine Beatty, Alberta Prime, Anna Jones, and even May Alix, the name of another (incidentally inferior) real live singer!

Although some listeners accustomed to her voice on her post-1977 recordings have little or no use for these early waxes, Hunter contributed positively to some very important sessions. These include a 1923 Paramount date where she was accompanied by a white group, the Original Memphis Five, said to be the first session of its kind; the famous Red Onion Jazz Babies session for Gennett-Champion's New York studio with Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet that produced "Cake Walking Babies from Home" and the vocal version of "Texas Moaner Blues"; many sessions backed by Fletcher Henderson's earliest orchestra, and some others where she was supported by Fats Waller, Eubie Blake, Lovie Austin, and Tommy Ladnier. Altogether, Hunter made more than 80 sides before 1930, most of them being made before 1925. A (rumored) rejected 1926 date for Vocalion teamed her with King Oliver, Lil Armstrong, and Johnny Dodds, but nothing concrete about this session has ever surfaced, and certainly no recordings of it.

During the '20s, Hunter also established herself as a songwriter of some significance; her song "Downhearted Blues" was covered by Bessie Smith on her first recording for Columbia -- it was a huge hit for Smith. Hunter was able to break easily into the black vaudeville circuit and by 1927 she was off to Europe for an extended stay which would keep her out of the U.S. for most of the depression. In London in 1934, Hunter made an extensive series of recordings with an orchestra led by Jack Jackson, some of these being straight-up pop records with no pretension of being blues or jazz. Returning to the U.S. in 1935, Hunter still found an audience waiting for her, but record dates were getting harder to come by. She made sessions with ARC, Bluebird, and Decca, but these generated no hits, and some weren't even released. Hunter ultimately wound up working for fly-by-night indies such as Regal and Juke Box in the '40s. Unfazed, Hunter worked the USO circuit during World War II and still had considerable drawing power in terms of personal appearances. There are those who insist that her recordings are nothing but a weak imitation of the real thing, and that it was Alberta Hunter the "live" performer that kept her fan base active during these years.

Hunter dropped out of show business for two decades starting in 1956 in favor of working as a licensed practical nurse at a hospital in the New York City area. She broke from this routine only once, in 1961, in order to make a justly celebrated album for Bluesville which reunited her with her old friends Lovie Austin and Lil Hardin Armstrong. None of her patients or co-workers at the hospital had any idea who she was or what a famous name she had been, and Hunter preferred it that way.

When Hunter retired from nursing in 1977, she was 81 and ready to go back on the road. By this time her voice was gritty, down and dirty, and her fans loved her for it. She made four albums for Columbia between 1977 and her death in 1984, including the extraordinary Amtrak Blues, and for many younger listeners these are the records by which Alberta Hunter is defined. Oddly, these same fans have little patience for her sweet and precious singing in the '20s, and relatively few outside of England would have much tolerance for her '30s work with Jack Jackson. Nonetheless, all of Hunter's recordings are interesting and wonderful in their own way.

Alberta Hunter was one of the earliest African-American singers, along with Sippie Wallace, to make the transition from the lowly brothels and sporting houses into the international spotlight. That she defies easy categorization attests to the astonishing fact that she was on the scene a little before the genres themselves were defined. Her longevity as a popular artist is equaled by only a few others, and she was successful in adapting her style to changes in popular taste, as well as along the lines of her own personal experiences."

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Rare Robert Pete Williams

Robert Pete Williams- Poor Bob's Blues

Album Review:
"Robert Pete Williams worked from the field holler tradition, with free-form lyrics that were usually unrhymed, making him the most idiosyncratic and West African-sounding of the country blues players, if not the most emotionally personal. Poor Bob's Blues collects recordings Williams did for Harry Oster's Folk-Lyric label between 1959 (when Oster discovered him at Angola Prison in Louisiana) and Williams' death in 1980, and it forms a wonderful introduction to this unique bluesman. The opening track on disc one, a slow, unaccompanied moan called "My Mind Wandering Around," sets the tone here, as Williams' improvised lyrics and spoken explanatory asides build into a remarkably personal meditation that is really unlike anything else in country blues. Even when Williams borrows from the kit bag of floating blues clichés, he couples them with his own improvised perspective, recycling them in the truest sense, as he does here with the ancient "Poor Boy, Long Way from Home," which emerges as a personal statement rather than a tired recasting of one of the most versioned songs in the blues canon. Other highlights include the powerful "Cane Cut Man," "Things All Wrong With Me," which features some nice jackknife slide, and "What a Shape I'm In." With excellent liner notes and track-by-track annotation, Poor Bob's Blues makes a perfect introduction to this truly one-of-a-kind bluesman."

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lightnin' Slim's Swamp Noise

Lightnin' Slim- We Gotta Rock Tonight

"The acknowledged kingpin of the Louisiana school of blues, Lightnin' Slim's style was built on his grainy but expressive vocals and rudimentary guitar work, with usually nothing more than a harmonica and a drummer in support. It was down-home country blues edged two steps further into the mainstream; first by virtue of Lightnin's electric guitar, and secondly by the sound of the local Crowley musicians who backed him being bathed in simmering, pulsating tape echo. As the first great star of producer J.D. Miller's blues talent stable, the formula was a successful one, scoring him regional hits that were issued on the Nashville-based Excello label for over a decade, with one of them, "Rooster Blues," making the national R&B charts in 1959. Combining the country ambience of a Lightnin' Hopkins with the plodding insistence of a Muddy Waters, Slim's music remained uniquely his own, the perfect blues raconteur, even when reshaping other's material to his dark, somber style. He also possessed one of the truly great voices of the blues; unadorned and unaffected, making the world-weariness of a Sonny Boy Williamson sound like the second coming of Good Time Charlie by comparison. His exhortation to "blow your harmonica, son" has become one of the great, mournful catchphrases of the blues, and even on his most rockin' numbers, there's a sense that you are listening less to an uptempo offering than a slow blues just being played faster. Lightnin' always sounded like bad luck just moved into his home approximately an hour after his mother-in-law did.

He was born with the unglamorous handle of Otis Hicks in St. Louis, Missouri on March 13, 1913. After 13 years of living on a farm outside of the city, the Hicks family moved to Louisiana, first settling in St. Francisville. Young Otis took to the guitar early, first shown the rudiments by his father, then later by his older brother, Layfield. Given his recorded output, it's highly doubtful that either his father or brother knew how to play in any key other than E natural, as Lightnin' used the same patterns over and over on his recordings, only changing keys when he used a capo or had his guitar de-tuned a full step.

But the rudiments were all he needed, and by the late '30s/early '40s he was a mainstay of the local picnic/country supper circuit around St. Francisville. In 1946, he moved to Baton Rouge, playing on weekends in local ghetto bars, and started to make a name for himself on the local circuit, first working as a member of Big Poppa's band, then on his own.

The '50s dawned with harmonica player Schoolboy Cleve in tow, working club dates and broadcasting over the radio together. It was local disc jockey Ray "Diggy Do" Meaders who then persuaded Miller to record him. He recorded for 12 years as an Excello artist, starting out originally on Miller's Feature label. As the late '60s found Lightnin' Slim working and living in Detroit, a second career blossomed as European blues audiences brought him over to tour, and he also started working the American festival and hippie ballroom circuit with Slim Harpo as a double act. When Harpo died unexpectedly in 1970, Lightnin' went on alone, recording sporadically, while performing as part of the American Blues Legends tour until his death in 1974. Lazy, rolling and insistent, Lightnin' Slim is Louisiana blues at its finest."

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lonesome Swamp Blues

Lonesome Sundown- If Anybody Asks You

"Unlike many of his swamp blues brethren, the evocatively monickered Lonesome Sundown (the name was an inspired gift from producer J.D. Miller) wasn't a Jimmy Reed disciple. Sundown's somber brand of blues was more in keeping with the gruff sound of Muddy Waters. The guitarist was one of the most powerful members of Miller's south Louisiana stable, responsible for several seminal swamp standards on Excello Records.

The former Cornelius Green first seriously placed his hands on a guitar in 1950, Waters and Hooker providing early inspiration. Zydeco pioneer Clifton Chenier hired the guitarist as one of his two axemen (Phillip Walker being the other) in 1955. A demo tape was enough proof for Miller -- he began producing him in 1956, leasing the freshly renamed Sundown's "Leave My Money Alone" to Excello.

There were plenty more where that one came from. Over the next eight years, Sundown's lowdown Excello output included "My Home Is a Prison," "I'm a Mojo Man," "I Stood By," "I'm a Samplin' Man," and a host of memorable swamp classics preceded his 1965 retirement from the blues business to devote his life to the church. It was 1977 before Sundown could be coaxed back into a studio to cut a blues LP; Been Gone Too Long, co-produced by Bruce Bromberg and Dennis Walker for the Joliet imprint, was an excellent comeback entry but did disappointing sales (even after being reissued on Alligator). Scattered live performances were about all that was heard of the swamp blues master after that."

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hutchison's Blues

Frank Hutchison- Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1 (1926-1929)

Album Review:
"Almost everything Frank Hutchison recorded can be found on this disc (the rest is collected on Old-Time Music From West Virginia). Because of this, Volume 1: 1926-1929 presents the most complete picture of the type of performer he was and the sort of material he performed. A singer, guitarist, and harmonica player, his repertoire included bottleneck showcases, fingerpicked rags, and old-time dance numbers. In Hutchison's time, such versatility was an advantage, improving chances for work and a longer recording life. Much of the material here was fairly conventional for the time. Typical of even the most successful performers, Hutchison wasn't afraid to rework a tune slightly and call it a new composition. "The West Virginia Rag" is just an instrumental version of "Coney Isle," while a similar backing is used again on "Old Rachel." His original take on the story of the Titanic, however, is the sort of thing that could occasionally place him above his contemporaries. "The Last Scene of the Titanic" is almost cinematic, managing to capture the optimism of both the crew ("How's your machinery?/All right!/How's your compass?/Still on New York!") and passengers. He continually returns to scenes of people dancing, breaking in and out of dance rhythms on guitar for effect. Hutchison's story leads up to the ship's wreck, choosing to leave out the tragedy that follows. Volume 1 is also notable for the inclusion of at least three classic folk-country-blues songs. "Worried Blues" is a fantastic slide guitar performance recorded at his very first session. Strangely, as the liner notes point out, after that first date, Okeh seemed just as satisfied having Hutchison record more forgettable material like "C&O Excursion" (a novelty song with Hutchison imitating train sounds on his harmonica) and "Long Way to Tipperary" (an innocuous dance piece). Also recorded that first day, however, was "Train That Carried the Girl From Town," one of his best compositions (later a staple for Doc Watson). The song would be paired with "Worried Blues" as a single for Okeh. There is also a rendition of the "Stackalee" legend. The story had been told by everyone from Furry Lewis to Mississippi John Hurt (and would continue to fascinate everyone from Neil Diamond to Nick Cave). Harry Smith would choose Hutchison's version for his Anthology of American Folk Music. Following the label's standard format, all the songs on Document's Volume 1 (1926-1929) are arranged in chronological order by recording date. Thankfully, while there is a small degree of song repetition, alternate takes of the same piece never run back to back."

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Clyde Waits On Six White Horses

**Please let me know how you feel about the inclusion of Old-Timey and REAL Country music on this blog. I believe that Darby & Tarlton received quite a warm reception. One of the songs on this album, "Columbus Stockade Blues", was originally performed by that duo. You will also find "Six White Horses" on this disc. Please let your voices be heard! Thank you**

Clyde Moody- Moody's Blues

"Best remembered as one of Bill Monroe's original Blue Grass Boys, singer/songwriter/string player Clyde Moody also played in almost every other subgenre of country music during his over fifty-year career, and even performed as a solo artist. During the '40s, he was known as the "Hillbilly Waltz King" after his song "Shenandoah Waltz" became a certified gold hit.

Moody was born and raised in Cherokee, North Carolina, and was very influenced by the traditional mountain music he heard there. During the mid-'30s, he and Jay Hugh, the brother of Roy Hall, teamed up to appear as the Happy-Go-Lucky Boys on the radio in Spartanburg, North Carolina. They then joined Wade Mainer, and with fiddler Steve Ledford they became the Sons of the Mountaineers. Moody joined Monroe in 1940 and performed with the Blue Grass Boys at WSM and at the Grand Ole Opry. About this time, Monroe and his Boys were becoming a bluegrass band, and the changes can clearly be heard in Moody's mandolin playing on the classic "Six White Horses." A year later, Moody spent a few months in Burlington, North Carolina playing radio duets with Lester Flatt. He later returned to the Blue Grass Boys and remained with them until again attempting a solo career in 1945.

He joined the Opry as a featured artist for a few weeks and then recorded for Columbia. He had his biggest hit, the sentimental "Shenandoah Waltz," in 1947, and followed it up with a series of similar tunes such as "Cherokee Waltz" and "I Waltz Alone." He had a few more hits through the end of the decade and then moved to Washington, D.C. to work for Connie B. Gay. In 1952, Moody signed with Decca, but only had a few singles up through the mid-'50s, when his health began to fail. He left music to become a mobile home salesman, but returned in 1962 with a solo album. He then tried a modern country album. During the folk revival, he played at bluegrass festivals and moved back to Nashville in 1972, where he performed both bluegrass and country music until his death in 1989."

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Early Alex Moore

Whistlin' Alex Moore- Complete Recorded Works (1929-1951)

Album Review:
"Complete Recorded Works (1929-1951) rounds up all of Whistlin' Alex Moore's early recordings for Columbia, Decca and RPM/Kent. The sound quality is a little rough, and since it spans several decades, the collection doesn't quite gel into a cohesive listening experience, but there's no denying that these rowdy barrelhouse blues are powerful and entertaining -- they're worth the time of any serious piano blues fan."

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Cover Shaker

Johnny Shines- Mr. Cover Shaker

"Best known as a traveling companion of Robert Johnson, Johnny Shines' own contributions to the blues have often been unfairly shortchanged, simply because Johnson's own legend casts such a long shadow. In his early days, Shines was one of the top slide guitarists in Delta blues, with his own distinctive, energized style; one that may have echoed Johnson's spirit and influence, but was never a mere imitation. Shines eventually made his way north to Chicago, and made the transition to electrified urban blues with ease, helped in part by his robust, impassioned vocals. He was vastly under-recorded during his prime years, even quitting the music business for a time, but was rediscovered in the late '60s and recorded and toured steadily for quite some time. A 1980 stroke robbed him of some of his dexterity on guitar, but his voice remained a powerfully emotive instrument, and he performed up until his death in 1992.

John Ned Shines was born April 26, 1915, in Frayser, TN, and grew up in Memphis from the age of six. Part of a musical family, he learned guitar from his mother, and as a youth he played for tips on the streets of Memphis with several friends, inspired by the likes of Charley Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson, and the young Howlin' Wolf. In 1932, he moved to Hughes, AR, to work as a sharecropper, keeping up his musical activities on the side; in 1935, he decided to try and make it as a professional musician. Shines had first met Robert Johnson in Memphis in 1934, and he began accompanying Johnson on his wanderings around the Southern juke-joint circuit, playing wherever they could find gigs; the two made their way as far north as Windsor, Ontario, where they appeared on a radio program. After around three years on the road together -- which made Shines one of Johnson's most intimate associates, along with Johnson's stepson Robert Jr. Lockwood -- the two split up in Arkansas in 1937, and never saw each other again before Johnson's death in 1938.

Shines continued to play around the South for a few years, and in 1941 decided to make his way north in hopes of finding work in Canada, and from there catching a boat to Africa. Instead, when he stopped in Chicago, his cousin immediately offered him a job in construction, and Shines wound up staying. He started making the rounds of the local blues club scene, and in 1946 he made his first-ever recordings; four tracks for Columbia that the label declined to release. In 1950, he resurfaced on Chess, cutting sides that were rarely released (and, when they were, often appeared under the name "Shoe Shine Johnny"). Meanwhile, Shines was finding work supporting other artists at live shows and recording sessions. From 1952-1953, he laid down some storming sides for the JOB label, which constitute some of his finest work ever (some featured Big Walter Horton on harmonica). They went underappreciated commercially, however, and Shines returned to his supporting roles. In 1958, fed up with the musicians' union over a financial dispute, Shines quit the music business, pawned all of his equipment, and made his living solely with the construction job he'd kept all the while.

Shines did, however, stay plugged into the local blues scene by working as a photographer at live events, selling photos to patrons as souvenirs. Eventually, he was sought out by blues historians, and talked into recording for Vanguard's now-classic Chicago/The Blues/Today! series; his appearance on the third volume in 1966 rejuvenated his career. Shines next cut sessions for Testament (1966's Master of the Modern Blues, Vol. 1, a couple with Big Walter Horton, and more) and Blue Horizon (1968's Last Night's Dream), which effectively introduced him to much of the listening public. The reception was much greater this time around, and Shines hit the road, first with Horton and Willie Dixon as the Chicago All-Stars, then leading his own band. In the meantime, his daughter died unexpectedly, leaving Shines to raise his grandchildren; concerned about bringing them up in an urban environment, he moved the whole family down to Tuscaloosa, AL.

During the early '70s, Shines recorded for Biograph and Advent, among others, and enjoyed one of his most acclaimed releases with 1975's more Delta-styled Too Wet to Plow (for Tomato). He also taught guitar locally in Tuscaloosa in between touring engagements. Despite his own generally high-quality work, Shines was a fascinating figure to many white blues fans simply because of the mythology surrounding Robert Johnson, and he was interviewed repeatedly about his experiences with Johnson to the exclusion of discussing his own music and contemporary career; which understandably frustrated him after a while. However, that didn't stop him from rediscovering his roots in acoustic Delta blues, or including many of Johnson's classic songs in his own repertoire; in fact, during the late '70s, Shines toured and recorded often with Robert Jr. Lockwood, a teaming that owed much to Johnson's legacy if ever there was one. Unfortunately, in 1980, Shines suffered a stroke that greatly affected his guitar playing, which would never return to its former glories. He was able to sing as effectively as before, though, and helped by some of his students, he continued to tour America and Europe. In the early '90s, Shines appeared in the documentary film Searching for Robert Johnson, and he also cut one last album with Snooky Pryor, 1991's Back to the Country, which won a Handy Award. Shines' health was failing, however, and he passed away on April 20, 1992, in a Tuscaloosa hospital."

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Townsend's Hard Luck Stories

Henry Townsend- Hard Luck Stories

"Influenced by Roosevelt Sykes and Lonnie Johnson, Henry Townsend was a commanding musician, adept on both piano and guitar. During the '20s and '30s, Townsend was one of the musicians that helped make St. Louis one of the blues centers of America.

Townsend arrived in St. Louis when he was around ten years old, just before the '20s began. By the end of the '20s, he had landed a record contract with Columbia, cutting several sides of open-tuning slide guitar for the label. Two years later, he made some similar recordings for Paramount. During this time, Townsend began playing the piano, learning the instrument by playing along with Roosevelt Sykes records. Within a few years, he was able to perform concerts with pianists like Walter Davis and Henry Brown.

During the '30s, Townsend was a popular session musician, performing with many of the era's most popular artists. By the late '30s, he had cut several tracks for Bluebird. Those were among the last recordings he ever made as a leader. During the '40s and '50s, Townsend continued to perform and record as a session musician, but he never made any solo records.

In 1960, he led a few sessions, but they didn't receive much attention. Toward the end of the '60s, Townsend became a staple on the blues and folk festivals in America, which led to a comeback. He cut a number of albums for Adelphi and he played shows throughout America. By the end of the '70s, he had switched from Adelphi to Nighthawk Records.

Townsend had become an elder statesmen of St. Louis blues by the early '80s, recording albums for Wolf and Swingmaster and playing a handful of shows every year. That's the Way I Do It, a documentary about Townsend, appeared on public television in 1984. During the late '80s, Townsend was nearly retired, but he continued to play the occasional concert until his death in 2006."

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Lyrics Of Gaither

Bill Gaither- Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 2

“Blues guitarist Bill Gaither cut well over a hundred sides for Decca and OKeh between 1931 and 1941. Gaither was close to the blues pianist Leroy Carr, and following Carr's death in 1935, he recorded as Leroy's Buddy for a time. A fine guitarist who possessed a warm, expressive voice, Gaither was also at times a gifted and inventive lyricist. He was often partnered with pianist George "Honey" Hill, and the duo patterned themselves after Carr and his guitarist, Scrapper Blackwell. Among Gaither's many sides are three tributes to Carr ("Life of Leroy Carr," "Leroy Carr's Blues," and the magnificent "After the Sun's Gone Down"). Born on April 21, 1910, in Belmont, KY (some sources have the birth year as 1905), Gaither is buried in New Crown Cemetery, Indianapolis, although the exact date of his death is not known.”

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gary Davis In His Prime

Reverend Gary Davis- I Am The True Vine

Album Review:
"Gary Davis (1896-1972) was a decided and acknowledged influence on a number of early rockers, including Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, and the Rolling Stones, and this sampler of works from 1935-49 shows ample reasons why. The pieces are almost all religious blues, but of an extremely earthy and rough sort, the type of things Davis sang to crowds on street corners from North Carolina to Harlem. His voice is gravelly and casual, sometimes slurring entire lines, yet he manages to strike the right tone with satisfying consistency. What may cause the contemporary listener to really sit up and take notice, however, is his astonishing and intricate guitar playing. If extracted and heard out of context, one might well imagine he's listening to John Fahey from 30 years hence. The album, in fact, closes with an instrumental that incorporates various march themes. There are a bunch of killer songs here, including the title track and "I Am the Light of the World," which have both lost none of their power over the years. The disc comes with excellent historical and critical liner notes by Robert Tilling. Highly recommended."

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Smokey Hogg

Andrew "Smokey" Hogg- Deep Ellum Rambler

Album Review:
"This comprehensive retrospective of Hogg's 1947-1951 work for Modern Records gathers 27 tracks, including the Top Ten R&B hits "Little School Girl" (a Sonny Boy Williamson composition) and "Long Tall Mama," as well as ten previously unissued cuts. If only in hindsight, Hogg at this juncture can be seen to be a link between rural blues and citified R&B, using some accompanying musicians and some electric guitar, but not always going whole-hog into a full-band sound. His phrasing, too, is still grounded in country-blues, but pushed toward more modern forms by some heavily rhythmic backing and barrelhouse piano. It's on the ragged side (pleasantly so) as just-post-World War II blues-cum-R&B goes, the arrangements sometimes giving the impression of being crafted on the spot, though Hogg's vocals are relaxed and authoritative. Sometimes it feels like a link between a Texas bluesman like Lightnin' Hopkins and the West Coast R&B of the late '40s and early '50s; the Modern label, of course, was at the forefront of the Western R&B/blues crossover mix. It's rather similar-sounding in one dose, as most single-artist compilations of material from this time on the Modern label are. Yet it's not as homogenous as some such anthologies are, in large degree because of Hogg's likable vocal persona. Almost everything was written by Hogg except, oddly enough, those two big hits, "Little School Girl" and "Long Tall Mama.""

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Prime Jack Dupree

Champion Jack Dupree- Junker's Blues (The Blues Collection Vol.59)

"A formidable contender in the ring before he shifted his focus to pounding the piano instead, Champion Jack Dupree often injected his lyrics with a rowdy sense of down-home humor. But there was nothing lighthearted about his rock-solid way with a boogie; when he shouted "Shake Baby Shake," the entire room had no choice but to acquiesce.

Dupree was notoriously vague about his beginnings, claiming in some interviews that his parents died in a fire set by the Ku Klux Klan, at other times saying that the blaze was accidental. Whatever the circumstances of the tragic conflagration, Dupree grew up in New Orleans' Colored Waifs' Home for Boys (Louis Armstrong also spent his formative years there). Learning his trade from barrelhouse 88s ace Willie "Drive 'em Down" Hall, Dupree left the Crescent City in 1930 for Chicago and then Detroit. By 1935, he was boxing professionally in Indianapolis, battling in an estimated 107 bouts.

In 1940, Dupree made his recording debut for Chicago A&R man extraordinaire Lester Melrose and OKeh Records. Dupree's 1940-1941 output for the Columbia subsidiary exhibited a strong New Orleans tinge despite the Chicago surroundings; his driving "Junker's Blues" was later cleaned up as Fats Domino's 1949 debut, "The Fat Man." After a stretch in the Navy during World War II (he was a Japanese P.O.W. for two years), Dupree decided tickling the 88s beat pugilism any old day. He spent most of his time in New York and quickly became a prolific recording artist, cutting for Continental, Joe Davis, Alert, Apollo, and Red Robin (where he cut a blasting "Shim Sham Shimmy" in 1953), often in the company of Brownie McGhee. Contracts meant little; Dupree masqueraded as Brother Blues on Abbey, Lightnin' Jr. on Empire, and the truly imaginative Meat Head Johnson for Gotham and Apex.

King Records corralled Dupree in 1953 and held onto him through 1955 (the year he enjoyed his only R&B chart hit, the relaxed "Walking the Blues.") Dupree's King output rates with his very best; the romping "Mail Order Woman," "Let the Doorbell Ring," and "Big Leg Emma's" contrasting with the rural "Me and My Mule" (Dupree's vocal on the latter emphasizing a harelip speech impediment for politically incorrect pseudo-comic effect).

After a year on RCA's Groove and Vik subsidiaries, Dupree made a masterpiece LP for Atlantic. 1958's Blues From the Gutter is a magnificent testament to Dupree's barrelhouse background, boasting marvelous readings of "Stack-O-Lee," "Junker's Blues," and "Frankie & Johnny" beside the risqué "Nasty Boogie." Dupree was one of the first bluesmen to leave his native country for a less racially polarized European existence in 1959. He lived in a variety of countries overseas, continuing to record prolifically for Storyville, British Decca (with John Mayall and Eric Clapton lending a hand at a 1966 date), and many other firms.

Perhaps sensing his own mortality, Dupree returned to New Orleans in 1990 for his first visit in 36 years. While there, he played the Jazz & Heritage Festival and laid down a zesty album for Bullseye Blues, Back Home in New Orleans. Two more albums of new material were captured by the company the next year prior to the pianist's death in January of 1992. Jack Dupree was a champ to the very end."

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bill Broonzy, Part 2

Big Bill Broonzy- Part 2 (1937-1940)

Album Review:
"The second volume in JSP's Big Bill Broonzy retrospective is four discs long, covering the bluesman's years in Chicago and New York. What is astonishing is that there are 100 tracks here. While it's true that there are many alternate takes for the sake of the historical record, nonetheless, when combined with volume one, this accounts for a prolific output by the singer and guitarist. Each disc is fully annotated with session information. Some of the musicians on these sessions include Blind John Davis, Washboard Sam, Punch Miller, Black Bob, and Ransom Knowling. The sound is good to very good indeed, as the music here has been completely remastered. Presentation is sparse but more than serviceable, and as always with JSP, the price is excellent. Neil Slaven wrote biographical liner notes for the set."

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Charlie Spand Dreams The Blues

Charlie Spand- Dreaming The Blues: The Best Of Charlie Spand

Album Review:
"Some folks say that piano man Charlie Spand was born in Elljay, GA, a small town in the Appalachian foothills north of Atlanta. That statement, like most of the information associated with this artist, is based upon research and speculation. What's known for sure is that Charlie Spand was one of several heavy-hitting blues, boogie-woogie and barrelhouse pianists who performed on Brady and Hastings Streets in Detroit, MI during the '20s. It is also known that in 1929 Spand moved to Chicago where he began hanging out and gigging with guitarist Blind Blake. Most verifiable of all is the fact that between June 1929 and September 1931 Spand recorded 24 sides for the Paramount label in Richmond IN, Chicago IL and Grafton, WI. In 1992 the Document reissue label released Spand's Complete Paramounts in chronological order. In 2002, the folks at Yazoo brought out Dreaming the Blues, a chronologically shuffled survey of these same recordings with noticeably improved sound quality. Yazoo did not include "Tired Woman Blues," an alternate take of "Got to Have My Sweetbread" or an incomplete breakdown of "Levee Man Blues." Yazoo did include Spand's spoken introduction from a song on a Paramount's blues sampler, "Hometown Skiffle," originally released in 1929 and reissued in 1997 by Black Swan Records, a division of the GHB Jazz Foundation, Inc., in New Orleans, LA. The Paramount recordings of Charlie Spand are refreshingly honest and real. Seven of these tracks (from the Richmond sessions that took place during the summer of 1929) have guitar accompaniments; most of these are attributed to Blind Blake, who rattles off a bit of friendly conversation on "Hastings Street." The only other Charlie Spand recordings known to exist are eight sides cut for the Okeh label in June of 1940. The producers at Document have vowed to reissue these rare sides "on CD at a later date.""

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Old Timey Pickin'

George Pegram & Walter "Red" Parham- Pickin' & Blowin'

"George Franklin Pegram was born and raised in Guilford County, a farming community that was rich in traditional music. Growing up as a teenager, the musician purchased his first Silvertone banjo for $15. He also met Zack Whitaker, a local promoter who organized fiddlers' conventions and showcases while Pegram was growing up. Also influenced by his uncle Clyde Pegram, George Pegram began perfecting the "double-thumbing" style of banjo playing, a three-finger movement that used single notes. At the age of 26, Pegram married Dorothy Louise Dick in Guilford County, then moved to Statesville. Upon entering the navy during the Second World War, Pegram lost one eye during the attack on Pearl Harbor. After working a variety of odd jobs in sawmills and furniture factories, the musician met Bascom Lamar Lunsford, a promoter of folk and "mountain" dance festivals. Needing additional acts to fill various folk festivals in North Carolina, Lunsford signed Pegram and recorded some of his material. Throughout the 1950s, he performed with Clegg Garner, Okie Mountain Boys and Corbett Bennett and His Mountain Dudes. In 1955, Pegram played with Walter "Red" Parhorn and more touring and performing continued. In 1957, Kenneth Goldstein recorded the duo for Riverside Records. Known for his dynamic and exciting live show, Pegram won a series of annual awards at the Galax Fiddlers' Convention, including the Outstanding Individual Performer in both 1966 and 1969. In 1970, he released his self-titled debut album. The album was the first album ever released on the Boston-based Rounder Records. Pegram continued playing until 1974, with the Asheville Folk Festival that year being his last performance. In September 1974, Pegram died from bone cancer. In 1995, Rounder Records celebrated its silver anniversary by re-releasing the album with six additional tracks."

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