MATCHBOX BLUESMASTER SERIES –
SOME FULL REVIEWS OF SET 7
BLUES IN BRITAIN, MAY 2022 Various Artists Matchbox Bluesmaster Series: Volume 7 'Songsters & Saints' MSESET7 (6 CD box set) Matchbox/Saydisc
British writer Paul Oliver wrote several highly regarded books on the history and roots of the blues, including in 1984, Songsters & Saints, but until now the recordings that went with the book have not seen the light of day on CD. Here they are at last and the wait has been more than worthwhile.
In set 7 of the stunning Matchbox Bluesmaster Series not only do we get the amazing recordings that support the book, but also an album featuring the man B.B. King called the greatest guitarist of them all, Lonnie Johnson, and another gem of an album featuring The Famous Hokum Boys. The Lonnie Johnson tracks came out of a creative five year period from 1927 to 1932 and apart from added piano on a few tracks, this is pure Johnson, opening with his two part recording of 'Kansas City Blues' from sessions in Chicago in December '27, followed by his version of 'Careless Love' from a February session in New York the next year. We also get three tracks from another New York Session in 1932 when he recorded as Jimmy Jordan, but throughout these recordings his guitar is outstanding. If you've got none of his recordings I suggest this is one incredible place to start, and that's just disc one.
On to the second offering in this set, and in a series of recordings between 1930-1931, The Famous Hokum Boys offer another set of blues gems. The musicians include Georgia Tom (piano), Big Bill Broonzy (vocals/ guitar) and Frank Brasswell (guitar). As Paul Oliver says, "There's probably no aspect of the blues which has received so little attention as Hokum, a positive embarrassment to many blues collectors". As one jazz writer put it, Hokum was an early term for faking or improvising, a "hoke" chorus was a hot solo. But whatever, these recordings by some great players are worthy additions to any blues collection.
So onto the recordings that I first heard of in Oliver's book and we get four albums to enjoy, covering "Dances And Travelling Shows", "Comment, Parodies & Ballad Heroes", "The Baptist Sanctified Preachers", "Gospel Soloists and Evangelists", "Medicine Show Songsters", "Songsters East and West" and the wonderfully named "Straining Preachers". The collection is subtitled Vocal Traditions On Race Records; but through these four discs there are some incredible recordings to enjoy with artists such as Peg Leg Howell, Charley Patton, Hambone Willie Newbern, Bo Chatmon and Kid Cooley to enrich your knowledge and enjoyment. The titles alone draw your attention: from the "Dances And Travelling Shows" set we get songs such as 'Turkey Buzzard Blues' and 'Under The Chicken Tree', from "Comment, Parodies and Ballad Heroes" there's 'Furniture Man' and my personal favourite 'I Heard The Voice Of A Pork Chop'. Try and beat that - mind you, a few titles here might raise eyebrows today but remember they are of their time. The medicine shows were all over the south and the recordings on the "Medicine Show Songsters" and "Songsters East and West" sets here include Papa Charlie Jackson, Gus Cannon (of Jug Stampers fame), Henry Thomas and a gem of a recording by that great guitarist Blind Blake, joined for this session by Gus Cannon.
Then it's onto three sets of the Preachers, not as we would expect today but with the congregation fully involved and joining in with the singing groups and musicians, and some pretty fine tambourine playing, titles such as 'After The Ball Is Over' and 'Silk Worms And Boll Weevils'. By the final disc, we're introduced to the incredibly named "Straining Preachers" and these you just have to hear, with the preaching of those such as Rev. Jim Beal in Chicago or Rev. Isaiah Sheldon in New Orleans, Rev. J.M. Milton in Atlanta or The Rev. E.S. (Shy) Moore in Memphis. One stand out track is Rev. Leora Ross preaching alongside the Living God Jubilee Choir about 'God's Mercy To Colonal Lindburgh'. What makes these recordings, all issued at the time on record for folks to take home, is the life, vitality and power of what they do. You could write pages on these wonderful recordings. Whether it's the Hokum Blues, the Gospel singers and preachers, the absolutely wonderful playing of Lonnie Johnson, each of these recordings bring you music you will never forget. Long overdue for release, grab yourselves copies while these remain available. This is the blues as good as it will ever get.
BLUES BLAST MAGAZINE, USA Matchbox Bluesmaster Series – set 7: Songsters & Saints – Vocal Traditions on Race Records Nimbus Records www.wyastone.co.uk www.saydisc.com www.matchboxbluesmaster.co.uk 6 discs
The Matchbox Bluesmaster series were originally released from November 1982 to June 1988 by Saydisc Records. Rare 78 rpm records were loaned to supplement the ones on hand to create what was called “Complete Recordings in Chronological Order” along with some add on tracks. These records were mastered on tape and released on vinyl. I previously looked at volumes 5 and 6 in a prior review and here we have the final set, which is a little different. I noted preciously that Austrian collector Johnny Parth edited the sets and got the recordings grouped and released by Saydisc in the UK. Hans Klement did the remastering work from Austrophon Studios in Vienna. The tracks selected were released in seven sets of six records and are here released on CD. The master tapes have long since vanished, so Norman White took the vinyl pressings and used high end transcription techniques to make the digital recordings. In addition to the 42 releases in these seven sets, even more music is expected for release as they have many pre-Bluesmaster cuts that can be released. Paul Oliver provides ample notes and data on each set of CDs. Oliver is a jazz and blues historian who has written 10 books on blues and gospel history and passed away in 2017 after a long career as a music historian and architect. He provides copious notes in a booklet for each set. The prior sets include entire CDs by a particular artist. Some artists get a couple of CDs to themselves.
As with the prior sets, Matchbox Bluesmaster Series – set 7 offers up the second volume of Lonnie Johnson’s works as an entire CD and also one from The Famous Hokum Boys. Johnson’s works range from 1927 to 1932 while The Hokum Boys cuts are from 1930 and 1931. The other four CDs are Songsters and Saints, Volumes 1 and 2. They range in dates from 1925 to 1931.
Discs 3 through 6 offer a variety of interesting and priceless recordings. All of these recordings were from white owned record labels that produce race records for black audiences and hillbilly music for white audiences; making a buck off music that would sell was the priority. The first two disc continue the series as before. Johnson’s vocals and guitar are splendid. He certainly was captured well, and some of the 78’s were pristine. The Fabulous Hokum Boys live up to their name with entertaining and light-hearted blues. The band is Georgia Tom on vocals and piano throughout, and also includes Big Bill Broonzy on vocals and guitar on a dozen tracks, Hannah Mae on vocals, Kansas City Kitty on vocals, Frank Brasswell on vocals and guitar, and Jane Lucas on vocals. Disc 3 is Dances and Travelling Shows and Comment, Parodies and Ballad Heroes. The former includes greats like Pink Anderson, Peg Leg Howell, Charley Patton, and The Memphis Sheiks. The latter group includes Lil McClintock, Hazekiah Jenkins, Bo Chatman, Kid Coley and many others.
Disc 4 is Baptists and Sanctified Preachers (9 tracks) and Gospel Soloists and Evangelists (9 tracks). There is some fiery old school preaching a little choral singing in the first part while the second part includes preaching and gospel tunes done by Blind Willie Davis, William and Versey Smith, Eddie Head and His Family and more. The fifth disc is Medicine Show Songsters and hen Songsters east and West. The Medicine Show cuts include great music from Papa Charlie Jackson, Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers, Jim Jackson and the Beale Street Sheiks. The Songsters are Sam Jones (Stovepipe No. 1) and David Crockett, Henry Thomas, Luke Jordan and Blind Blake, one of my personal favorite artists. The final disc features The Straining Preachers and Songsters East and West: Saints of Church and Street. A half dozen preachers and some of their flocks are included in the first section while the last set includes Blind Willie Johnson, The Memphis Sanctified Singers, Arizona Juanita Dranes, Blind Joe and Emma Taggart and more.
This final chapter in the Matchbox Bluesmaster Series is unique in that it includes a plethora of sacred and secular music and spoken word. One marvels at the incredible gospel and blues tunes included and the fire and brimstone preaching (often with congregational responses); there is so much cool stuff represented by these recordings.
The seventh set of CDs is a perfect conclusion to the series and offers the listener a variety of songs and spoken word that they will thoroughly enjoy. I highly recommend this and the entire series to those who want to learn how early blues and gospel got recorded and promoted and influences the electrified urban blues, R&B, rock and roll, soul, hip hop and rap music. All of America’s popular music came from these early blues and gospel music and hearing it gives us a great look into how that all happened.
Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.
May2022 issue of the Los Angeles Jazz Scene JAZZ AROUND TOWN The British Saydisc label’s Matchbox Bluesmaster series has reached its conclusion. During 1982-88, Matchbox released 38 albums and two double-Lps of early blues that (with a couple of exceptions) date from 1926-34. Saydisc (www.saydisc.com) has reissued the entire catalog on seven six-CD sets.
The final two volumes came out recently. Matchbox Bluesmaster Series Set 6 brings back Papa Charlie Jackson (1924-29), Memphis Jug Band (1927-34), Barbecue Bob (1927-30), Leecan & Cooksey (1926-27), Roosevelt Sykes (1929-34), and Mississippi Sheiks Vol 2 (1930-34). These once-rare albums of blues, hokum and gospel include performances by both well-known (Sykes) and obscure (Leecan & Cooksey) artists. Papa Charlie Jackson was unusual in that he was a blues-singing banjo player (rather than guitarist) whose music often came close to jazz. The Memphis Jug Band was a spirited party group while singer-guitarist Barbecue Bob (Robert Hicks) ranged from religious numbers (including one of the earliest recordings of “When The Saints Go Marching In”) to lowdown numbers (“Red Hot Mama, Papa’s Going To Cool You Off”). Guitarist Bobby Leecan and harmonica player Robert Cooksey make for a lively duo and are also heard in other settings including with cornetist Tom Morris in the Dixie Jazzers Washboard Band. Pianist-singer Roosevelt Sykes is heard near the beginning of his long career while the Mississippi Sheiks show why they were a very popular attraction during their prime years.
Matchbox Bluemaster Series Set 7 is subtitled Songsters & Saints. Guitarist-singer Lonnie Johnson is featured on the first disc (mostly performing solo although there is a two-part number with Victoria Spivey) and the second CD features the Famous Hokum Boys, a good-time group that features singer-pianist Georgia Tom Dorsey and often Big Bill Broonzy on guitar and vocals. The final four discs reissue a pair of Various Artists two-Lp sets originally titled Vocal Traditions on Race Records: Songsters & Saints Vols. 1 & 2. Many different singers are heard from on one or two selections apiece, giving listeners an idea of what the black music world sounded like before the blues and jazz took over. From folk songs, party tunes, and long-forgotten religious hymns and even some preaching, these four discs provide a strong overview of pre-blues black music from a wide variety of performers.
It is quite rewarding that the entire Matchbox catalog is now available on CD. Paul Oliver’s original definitive liner notes are also included and are a major bonus to this highly recommended series.
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