Blues News from EarlyBlues.com
Snippets from the blues world
This major release from Saydisc Records is an extremely well produced and comprehensive compilation from across the whole blues music genre. The original recordings were sourced from rare 78 rpm records of well-respected specialist blues music collectors, the discographical details are from the ‘Blues Bible’ Blues & Gospel Records (1895–1943) by Dixon, Godrich & Rye and the liner notes are from the writings of Paul Oliver, a world authority on the blues.
It just doesn’t get any better!
The Matchbox Bluesmaster series will be of great interest to all blues enthusiasts and collectors, but also to those who are curious about the origins of most forms of popular music today from modern blues to rhythm & blues, rock’n’ roll, soul and reggae – A very coherent introduction to early blues for the newcomer. The producers hope this series will attract the attention of younger people to the power and importance of this music and I applaud this vision as well as recommending this as a great resource and listening for us older people too.
EarlyBlues.com, EarlyGospel.com and EarlyRnB.com
Blues and Gospel Researcher, Historian and Archivist
BBC Radio 4 – Front Row Tuesday 5th January 2021
Matchbox Bluesmaster Series
Authentic historical detail is the very essence of the Matchbox Bluesmaster Series, an extraordinary musical archive of Early Blues recordings often made on location. ….. With me now is the music critic and Blues fan, Kevin Le Gendre who has been listening to the first discs of a new CD reissue of the Matchbox Bluesmaster recordings.
TS: Kevin, can you tell us first about that enterprise, the Bluesmaster collection, it’s a work of scholarship really isn’t it, as much as a record release.
KLG: Absolutely, they’ve done some serious archaeological, just incredible work where they’ve basically recovered these recordings which cover mostly 1926 to the early ‘30s, 1930, 1932, and I think what is really really interesting is the fact that they’ve brought relatively new names to the table. Even for people who know the basics of the Blues who would be able to tell you about Robert Johnston or Blind Lemon Jefferson or Charlie Patton or others, to actually hear the music of Buddy Boy Hawkins, Richard Rabbit Brown, as you mentioned, Peg Leg Howell, Texas Alexander who I didn’t know, is really quite a revelation because it shows you that there was another generation before the ones who really made it a larger commercial breakthrough and that those founding fathers were really quite exceptional in the way that they were able to come up with some very very sharp lyrics and also use very very interesting sounds just with the range of instrumentation, what they’re doing rhythmically, the way they are using syncopation, it’s really quite remarkable.
TS: A collection like this sells itself on a sense of authenticity, both authenticity of original experience of the people making the music, authenticity of expression, but how much were they a product of 1920s marketing, these original records?
KLG: Well I think the fact that they were able to actually gain access to recording studios and that they drew the attention, they captured the attention of people who saw that there was a market for what they called race music at the time, is a testimony to the fact that the talent had to be recognised, I mean this is a very divided America, this is a segregated America. The race records market for the Black audience which involves a huge amount of exploitation of Black artists as well, but nonetheless the talent can’t be denied.
TS: Now there’s a huge range here, isn’t there. The jokey cliché of the Blues is waking up and feeling miserable, reaching for a guitar, but there’s a huge range of subject matter, I mean even topical news events, there’s a song here about the Titanic, we can here a bit of that I think [music excerpt – Richard Rabbit Brown: Sinking Of The Titanic MSESET1 Disc 1 Track 11] I can almost hear echoes, pre-echoes of Bob Dylan’s big ballade about the Titanic there, but are these objects of study now, are they musical fossils essentially, butterflies pinned in a drawer or do they remain a pleasure to listen to in their own right for you?
KLG: They absolutely remain a pleasure to listen to but more to the point they still resonate through modern day popular music. Those basic techniques, not just the actual sounds but the imagery as well. One of the words that you hear throughout the songs on these collections is ‘baby’, you know, which again that could be one of the ultimate clichés but it’s still there, we still use it, because it’s really really resonant, because it’s so emotionally charged, so I think the foundation that they’ve laid is still rock solid, it’s still there and it still provides a vocabulary that contemporary artists have to refer to.
TS: The arrangement here, is partly chronological, partly by theme, does that work do you think? Or is it just a treasure trove that you listen to and find stuff as you go along?
KLG: Well it is a treasure trove, there’s no doubt about that, but because the Blues is a generic term and you have all of these different schools, these different approaches, these sub-genres I think it makes sense to divide it into Country Blues, Ragtime Blues, the Harp Players, I mean that’s another form of vocabulary as well when you actually got people playing a mouth organ, the harmonica, again there’s a little reference to Dylan, so showing you that the Blues has an enormous amount of diversity, sonically and also lyrically as well I think is important and that really comes across in the collection.
LIVING BLUES MAGAZINE, USA
Matchbox - MSESET2
The on-going digital and CD reissue of the Matchbox series continues with reproductions of six albums released on LP during the first nine months of 1983. Annotated and likely programmed in large part by British blues scholar Paul Oliver, the Matchbox releases reflect his inclination to champion outliers shunned by pre-war blues orthodoxy. Even more than Oliver's picks for the first set in this revived series, this second lot sheds light on kindred yet distinct traditions sharing musical space with blues during its early days on record.
Skip James 1931: Complete Recordings in Chronological Order, the seventh album in the original series and the first here, reproduces what was surely the most newsworthy release in the Matchbox series when it made its early 1983 debut. It brought together all 18 of his Paramount recordings on one disc for the first time. Even with near unlistenable sound on a couple of tracks, this was then a Very Big Deal to devotees of this singular artist. There was simply no one else like James in the pantheon of early blues greats. His intricate guitar lines, rhythmically idiosyncratic piano playing, haunted sounding falsetto vocals and lyrically dark vision were unique. In a 1984 New York Times review of the initial Matchbox vinyl releases, Robert Palmer wrote: "His arcane minor-modal tunings and eerie high-pitched singing create a strange, hushed atmosphere that is by turns mystically enraptured and profoundly unsettling." Beyond the uniquely Jamesian dirges (Devil Got My Woman, Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues) lie hidden surprises: Drunken Spree is a variant of Uncle Dave Macon's Last Night When My Willie Came Home with sunny fingerpicking of the John Hurt variety: How Long "Buck" deconstructs Leroy Carr’s hit How Long, How Long Blueswith the sort of piano accompaniment Palmer tagged “angular and unpredictable." There have since been reissues of James' Paramount sides with better sound, but here for the first time in one place was the whole pre-war lot by an artist Oliver called a "uniquely talented composer."
Matchbox followed in May 1983 with an album that could not have been more different, reflecting Oliver's penchant for musical chameleons comfortably crossing musical genres and seemingly eras. Oliver writes of the universal popularity of string bands "throughout the South during the period when the blues was emerging and maturing" while citing the relative paucity of commercial "race records" reflecting that popularity. Coley Jones & the Dallas String Band 1927-1929 offered 16 selections spanning minstrelsy, ragtime, pop songs, and blues. Jones’ recordings are a near textbook reflection of what a "jack of all trades" entertainer (and group) would have offered in the 1920s: minstrel songs (Traveling Man) from the prior century, then new pop tunes (So Tired, the song that inspired James’I'm So Glad), ragtime (the DSB ‘s oft-anthologized Dallas Rag), and newly popular hokum blues Jones’ four recordings with vocalist Bobbie Cadillac are all riffs on the Tampa Red / Georgia Tom hit It’s Tight Like That), Jones sang and played passable guitar and first-rate mandolin. He was joined on the eight Dallas String Band sides by guitarist Sam Harris, a second mandolinist, and Marco Washington on a bowed string bass that often sounds like a jug. The DSB ‘s varied repertoire and rowdy dance hall energy suggest a kinship with the western swing bands soon to emerge in Dallas-Ft. Worth. Oliver rightly regrets the DSB not recording in the 1930s when it was still evolving, occasionally including trumpet and clarinet players.
If the string band tradition was little represented on early commercial blues recordings and virtually non-existent on later ones, the same can't be said of the humble harmonica. It became more prominent on blues recordings after the mid-1930s thanks to the popularity of Jazz Gillum and Sonny Boy Williamson. For them, the harp was an ensemble instrument that offered punctuation to lyrics. It was a soloist on some remarkable early sides that might fairly be called “novelty" records, but that doesn't detract from the virtuosity of the performers. Great Harp Players 1921-30 offered 18 performances by six early harp virtuosi. Most had a single two-sided recording session. Little is known about any of them except the one who rated two sessions, El Watson. His first was in Bristol, Tennessee in 1927 where he was the sole Black performer among the talent that turned up for the legendary location recording session that yielded the first sides by country music pioneers Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. Watson's two-sided harp solo 78 r.p.m. sold well enough for him to be called to New York the following year to wax four sides, among them a lovely little waltz (Sweet Bunch of Daisies) and a twin harmonica tour de force in the company of Robert Cooksey, El Watsons Fox Chase. Vocal effects imitative of baying hounds were typical of this and other "fox chase" harp recordings, but Freeman Stowers took that to another level on the B-sides of his two harmonica solos. Texas Wild Cat Chase and Sunrise on the Farm are stunning examples of expert vocal mimicry of beasts both domesticated and feral. If you think nearly an hour of solo harmonica, augmented by occasional outbursts of wild vocalization, may be dull or repetitive, think again: this is surely one of the most entertaining and varied compilations in the Matchbox series.
The next entry offered the first 15 issued recordings by one of the most enduringly influential blues artists. Pianist-vocalist-composer Leroy Carr was just 23 when he and guitarist Scrapper Blackwell recorded How Long, How Long Blues at their debut session. It reportedly sold a million copies and the duo was called back six months later to rerecord it when Vocalion wore out the master. Carr's introspective lyrics, expressive vocals, and subdued yet effective accompaniments were ground breaking. Blues was still evolving on multiple tracks: Charley Patton and a host of fellow "rustics" had yet to record. Carr provided the blueprint for a far different school, the moody, urbane after-hours blues Charles Brown exemplified in the 1940s (I’m just drifting like a ship without a sail, Carr sang in How Long How Long Blues Part 3), though his impact was voiced earlier by the likes of Robert Johnson, some of whose songs were deeply influenced by Carr. Arguably the first "modern” blues artist in the Matchbox series, that modernity can be both positive and problematic: some of the song settings on Leroy Carr 1928 quickly sound formulaic, yet his engaging lyrics keep them from becoming trite.
Variety was in no shortage on the first LP Matchbox released in September 1983. Tommie Bradley-James Cole Groups, 1930-32. Bradley delivered the vaudeville blues standby When You’re Down and Out with a winning vocal demeanor while James Cole's Washboard Four made a sprightly string band shuffle of the 20’s pop hit Runnin’ Wild. Some tracks are straight blues (Pack Up Her Trunk Blues) accompanied by two guitars, while others are pop and ragtime (Adam and Eve) with varied accompaniment (violin, mandolin, piano, washboard, kazoo, jug; unclassifiable, these 15 sides are just fun. Oliver lamented a dearth of info on the musicians while speculating they were from the southern fringes of the Midwest, Kentucky, or Ohio. Hearing Cole’s fiddle keening against a mandolin backing on Window Pane Blues, it’s easy to imagine such a group influencing what would later emerge in that region as bluegrass.
The final entry in this set, and the twelfth Matchbox release as of September
1983, is Charley Lincoln 1921-1930. The elder brother of Robert Hicks (Barbecue Bob) sang so as to be clearly understood and, like some other Atlantans, accompanied himself on 12-string guitar. The sound quality here on the 14 Lincoln tracks is generally excellent, though musically he tends to be deemed less interesting than his younger brother. Oliver may have given Lincoln priority for a song like Chain Gang Trouble, which opens with lyrics associated with In the Pines(a.k.a. Black Girl) and later, as Oliver notes. "includes a ‘captain' verse suggesting a link with work song." Texas Alexander recorded a very similar verse three months prior on Section Gang Blues, heard on Matchbox Bluesmaster Series-Set I. Was that a ''floating verse" common in Texas and Georgia or an example of one blues singer borrowing from another's new record (both waxed for Columbia)? As with much else of that era, we can only guess, and those mysteries remain part of the music's appeal.
Blues Matters review of set 5 Dec 21/Jan 22
Reading the excellent liner notes that accompany this 6 CD compilation, I was staggered to read that 42 albums are covered within this project. These cover every major blues artist from the 1920s and some of those names don’t immediately roll off the tongue. Happily, this particular set includes some of my all-time blues heroes. Disc one is dedicated to one such hero of mine, Blind Lemon Jefferson. The first song, Got The Blues, tells you everything that you need to know about Jefferson. The magnificent voice, exquisite guitar playing, and to top it all, fantastic lyrics, which as he is blind, would not be the easiest of tasks to put into song. The recordings are the best available, some are very scratchy because of the status of the early 78 that they were taken from. Also, you have to take into consideration that these tunes were recorded almost 100 years ago. Such is the skill and deference of these blues masters, One Time Blues recorded in 1927, shows Jefferson at the peak of his career. A huge blues tune at the time, still holding its own today. Frank Stokes mean may not be up on the tip of your blues tongue, and listen to the CD, and he will be! “Tain’t No Business If I Do”, highlights exactly how good this guy was. He was very much in the country blues tradition towards the end of the 1920s which is self-evident on hearing his work. Blind Blake and Lonnie Johnson are two more blues giants of this era. Blake, with songs like, Backdoor Slam Blues, which could well have been the inspiration behind Since I’ve Been Loving You (Led Z) and Lonnie Johnson’s Woman Changed My Life, epitomise blues fom the moment of conception to latter-day blues we have today. I wish I could write more about this compilation so that I could exude my delight at the production of such fine material.
Stephen Harrison (Blues Matters, issue 123 December 21/January 22)
MUSIC WEB INTERNATIONAL MATCHBOX MSESET 3 [6 CDs: 5 hours 10 mins]
The third box in this reissue series proves just as invigorating as its confreres. For the genesis of the Matchbox releases and the principles of restoration, and a number of other essential elements, I’ll refer you back to my reviews of the first two boxes ( Set No.1 and Set No.2 ) The third box has plentiful variety, from harmonica to solo guitar and vocal, vocal duets and good old ‘Country Girls’. As before, each LP now occupies a CD and the average disc length is around 52 minutes. The Harmonica Kings in chronological order – a constant feature of the recordings is the chronology – open the box with a vitalising sequence of 78s from 1929-30. Hear the amazing virtuosity of Noah Lewis, the Horowitz of the Harp, as he powers his way through some pieces either solo or with Sleepy John Estes and others. Even in the plentiful cornucopia of Memphis musicians Lewis is astonishing – his train tropes, blues hollers (spurred on by Estes) and the like are a marvel of invention and control. The Beale Street Rounders and Beale Street Jug Band featured Jed Davenport and the classic I’m Sitting on Top of the World is here of course, fully representative of this tight band, which covered hokum as well as blues and all stations in between. One thing they also did, with too much regularity, was play Tight Like That under different names, but I’m not complaining. Disc 2 features the second volume in the series devoted to Texas Alexander, One of the three San Antonio, Texas tracks is in poor estate but, as Lonnie Johnson is accompanying, it’s insightful to hear how influential Alexander was on him as a significant amount of Alexander’s singing style seeped into Johnson’s own vocals. Alexander was something of an aficionado of filth, rather a constant in blues – I’d recommend Ninety-Eight Degree Blues, recorded with guitarist Little Hat Jones - but you’ll encounter others that entertain almost as much. Of most interest to Jazz fans will be the two sides where King Oliver plays with guitarist Eddie Lang and Clarence Williams at the piano (New York 1928) which are Tell Me Woman Blues and ‘Frisco Train Blues, and are far from the best-known of Oliver’s obbligato performances on disc. Ramblin’ Thomas recorded largely in Chicago but there’s one side here from a visit to Dallas in February 1929. Four of these sides are honestly tagged with information that they are rough copies and I think better ones have now turned up. It’s an inevitable corollary of a straight LP-to-CD reissue series that one has to make the best of original LP material. Indeed, more of that 1932 session has now turned up than was known at the time Matchbox released this LP and can be sourced elsewhere, on CD and indeed online. Probably born in Louisiana Thomas was a superior lyricist with an excellent technique. His deft instrumental breaks are a constant pleasure and he absorbed elements of recorded performances from other artists – Victoria Spivey for instance – whilst there is a strong vein of autobiography in his ‘ramblings’, very much more pronounced than some of the more generic recounting of some of his contemporaries. The Dallas disc has a Country Dance feel to it, showing his versatility and ability to blend with requirements to earn an honest dollar, to augment what he earned in the streets. The artists in disc 4 were recorded between 1926-29 and include Lilian Miller, with one side accompanied by the precocious and sadly short lived teenage Hersal Thomas, and her others with George W Thomas and Charlie Hill. She’s sadly a nondescript singer but her inclusion rounds out the picture. Much more satisfying is Hattie Hudson’s brace. Some have suggested that Gertrude Perkins was also Hudson as all their songs were recorded at the same session with the same pianist, Willie Tyson, but she sounds more laryngitic than Hudson to my ears and the accompaniment is more lugubrious. Pearl Dickson impresses whilst the Gospel singer Laura Henton sometimes has to contend with a mighty brass bass accompaniment but manages to overcome this and proves highly accomplished. The final track is by Bobbie Cadillac and she features on a previous release (MSE208) singing duets. If you are after Good Time music, try disc 5 for the Blue Harmony Boys. Steady rhythm and hokum flair are their metier – saucy and slick. There’s some Hawaiian influence from time to time in the guitar styling though once again a number of these tracks are taken from poor originals which might limit enjoyment to some extent. The Boys included Rufus Quillian and Brother Jackson with possibly James McCrary – and Rufus was also joined by Ben Quillian when they recorded in Atlanta where they were certainly joined by McCrary. The last CD, by pleasing symmetry, revisits the harmonica. De Ford Bailey is yet another of the harp railroad virtuosi whose command of the rhythms and whistles are splendidly conceived. He has a lightness too that is a fine corrective to more relentless performers. Catchy and flexible these NYC and Nashville sides are a constant delight, and you can play them straight through without any fatigue – farmyard impressions and whoops included. Bert Bilbro was a rather lesser player but a flexible stylist well worth getting to know and as much at home with railroad schtick as the Country milieu. His Chester Blues is really John Henry. Unusually in this series Bilbro was white. The late Paul Oliver’s notes were always a wonderful addition to this series telling the reader everything necessary and known about the musicians and their backgrounds and songs. There’s much more to come in this sequence and much to relish here. Jonathan Woolf
BLUES IN BRITAIN Various Artists
The Matchbox Blues Masters Series - Volumes 3 and 4 Matchbox Blues Masters
Recorded between 1926 and 1950, these are pure blues gold. Many of the artists you may not have heard of before but don't let that put you off. This is the first time any of these tracks have appeared on CD, but between 1982 and 1988 they found a release on LP form through Saydisc Records. In fact most of the recordings were subtitled "Complete Recordings in Chronological Order", with the remainder released as "The Remaining Titles" or "New to LP". The original 78 rpm records, many of them extremely rare, were provided by several collectors for these releases. Volumes 1 and 2 were reviewed quite recently in this magazine, now come volumes 3 and 4. Texas Alexander who recorded over a twenty year period in San Antonio, Texas had a great earthy blues voice and most of the recordings still sound fine but obviously age and using rare originals affect a few tracks, but the quality of the music far outweigh anything else. The man himself came from the backwoods, could be heard singing in the streets. He recorded some well received tracks for Okeh Records, so to have three discs of his work here is something any blues fan should grab a listen too From the period between 1927 and 1930 and from Atlanta, Georgia come Julius Daniels and Lil McClintock. Both just have guitar backing. Daniels was born in South Carolina and remained pretty obscure, but not so much as McClintock who did all his tracks here in one session, including the wonderfully titled 'Don't Think I'm Santa Claus'. Daniels gets eleven tracks including 'My Mama Was A Sailor’. Names that may seem a little more familiar with long time blues followers is Peg Leg Howell and the wonderful St Louis Bessie whose eighteen recordings in this set prove she was a mighty blues singer. One area covered in these latest releases feature what's called The Sanctified Jug Bands, interesting because of the practice of recording the Sunday sermon and releasing them on disc the next day, preacher usually backed, as here, by three female voices and maybe a single harmonica. This disc includes amongst others Brother Williams Memphis Sanctified Singers and the Holy Ghost Sanctified Singers, all recorded in Memphis. The songs have rhythm mainly through some amazing clapping to set the songs alive; its great toe tapping stuff, full of life and hugely enjoyable fire and brimstone preaching. Set three offers us as an opener from the Memphis Harmonica Kings (1929-30) and the first section of this set is by Noah Lewis. To hear the man himself is a real treat. Again out of Memphis sessions is a mix of solo and band tracks that include Sleepy John Estes on guitar along with Yank Rachell on mandolin . These are legendary tracks, as are the rest of this disc featuring The Beale Street Rounders with Jed Davenport, including songs like 'Milk Cow Blues', 'How Long Blues' and 'I'm Sitting On Top Of The World'. By the time we hit disc three we find Willard 'Ramblin' Thomas, recorded in Chicago over three sessions between 1928 and 1932. This is solo voice and guitar and over the sixteen tracks there's much to enjoy. Thomas's songs are the work of a poet with his use of imagery and turn of phase, making his music more inventive than others around him at the time. Next up are the Country Girls of the blues. These recordings from 1926 to '29 offer songs from the likes of Lillian Miller, Hattie Hudson, Gertrude Perkins, Pearl Dickson, Laura Henton and the wonderfully named Bobbie Cadillac. In fact her 'Carbolic Acid Blues' recorded in Dallas, is one of the best titles around, about how a woman treats a cheating man. All of these ladies' tracks feature mainly just piano with a little guitar here and there. Rufus & Ben Quilian make up the majority of the next disc mostly from a session in New York, with others from Atlanta recorded in 1929 and 1930 while the final disc features an artist fans of classic blues will know slightly better, De Ford Bailey, Of the sixteen tracks all but two are in great shape, the others being poor condition originals, recorded mostly in New York and Atlanta but with one from a Charlotte, NC session. Along with the six discs in each set, Paul Oliver's extensive original notes make very interesting reading, an insight into these largely unknown musicians and their recordings. Pete Clack
Wyastone Estate Limited
Trading as Nimbus Records
Monmouth, NP25 3SR, United Kingdom
Tel: 01600 890 007 (outside UK phone +44 1600 890 007)
Fax: 01600 891 052 (outside UK phone +44 1600 891 052)
Blues Matters review of set 5 Dec 21/Jan 22
Reading the excellent liner notes that accompany this 6 CD compilation, I was staggered to read that 42 albums are covered within this project. These cover every major blues artist from the 1920s and some of those names don’t immediately roll off the tongue. Happily, this particular set includes some of my all-time blues heroes. Disc one is dedicated to one such hero of mine, Blind Lemon Jefferson. The first song, Got The Blues, tells you everything that you need to know about Jefferson. The magnificent voice, exquisite guitar playing, and to top it all, fantastic lyrics, which as he is blind, would not be the easiest of tasks to put into song. The recordings are the best available, some are very scratchy because of the status of the early 78 that they were taken from. Also, you have to take into consideration that these tunes were recorded almost 100 years ago. Such is the skill and deference of these blues masters, One Time Blues recorded in 1927, shows Jefferson at the peak of his career. A huge blues tune at the time, still holding its own today. Frank Stokes mean may not be up on the tip of your blues tongue, and listen to the CD, and he will be! “Tain’t No Business If I Do”, highlights exactly how good this guy was. He was very much in the country blues tradition towards the end of the 1920s which is self-evident on hearing his work. Blind Blake and Lonnie Johnson are two more blues giants of this era. Blake, with songs like, Backdoor Slam Blues, which could well have been the inspiration behind Since I’ve Been Loving You (Led Z) and Lonnie Johnson’s Woman Changed My Life, epitomise blues fom the moment of conception to latter-day blues we have today. I wish I could write more about this compilation so that I could exude my delight at the production of such fine material. Stephen Harrison (Blues Matters, issue 123 December 21/January 22) LIVING BLUES (USA) Jan-Feb 2022 VARIOUS ARTISTS Matchbox Bluesmaster Series: Set 5 MSESET5 The latest six-CD set in the on-going reissue of the Matchbox Bluesmaster Series brings to the digital realm six LPs originally issued between April 1984 and February 1986. These were the initial releases in the MSE 1000 series of titles variously tagged "The Remaining Titles" or “Mostly New to LP." Those "new" or "remaining" modifiers applied specifically to tracks not previously issued on vinyl by the related Austrian Roots and English Saydisc labels. Many had previously come to LP in the States on such labels as Yazoo, Biograph, Mamlish, etc. That said, this collection is a motherlode of gems for fanciers of pre-war guitar styles, albeit with often less than 21st century sound quality. This collection opens with The Remaining Titles: Blind lemon Jefferson, 1926-29. It's surprising to find among his Remaining Titles two of Jefferson's best-known (and most covered) songs, Match Box Blues and One Dime Blues. Paul Oliver's notes offer no clues as to why these hits were late coming to European vinyl, though he does reflect on how Jefferson's popularity during his lifetime and subsequent high regard by trad jazz enthusiasts "has somehow worked to the disadvantage of his reputation among blues collectors”. Love him or snub him, there's no denying Jefferson's once-universal popularity: some of the nearest recorded approximations of his complex guitar accompaniments were waxed by south-eastern hillbilly artists. Without Jefferson's success and subsequent early death, would there have been reason for record companies to seek out guitar playing blues singers from the Delta and elsewhere? Pushing the speculative envelope further yet, might America's Blue Yodeler Jimmie Rodgers be regarded on one level as a white answer to Jefferson? Here are 17 of his songs, some a mite surface noisy, all beyond reproach. Jefferson's declamatory vocal projection battles bravely through the auditory sandstorm of battered Paramount 78 r.p.m.'s, but it's a blurrier picture for his fellow Paramount stars the Beale Street Sheiks (Frank Stokes and Dan Sane) on The Remaining Titles: Frank Stokes 1921-29. Too bad, since their interlocking finger-style guitars are a delight. It feels like the clouds part, the sun shines, and the sound is suddenly sharp on the later Victor sides Stokes made with fiddler Will Batts. Like Jefferson's, Stokes· ''Remaining Titles" oddly include some of his best-known songs: I Got Mine, Frank Stokes’ Dream, Tain't Nobody's Business if I Do. Stokes’ gently rollicking guitar and vibrato-laden vocals, sounding older than his 40ish years, are charmers even at 20 songs, a tad samey-sounding. Variety is in no short supply on The Remaining Titles: Blind Blake 1926-29. We find the ragtime guitar great holding his own in the unlikely company of xylophone, slide whistle, and even a musical saw on a mercifully few tracks here. Clarinetist Johnny Dodds proves a better fit for Blake, who also works as sideman to vocalist Bertha Henderson on her lurid Terrible Murder Blues, likely inspired by Victoria Spivey's Murder in the First Degree. Blake's own vocals can be ploddingly doleful on his slow blues but radiate an upbeat sparkle on such ragtime showpieces as Skeedle Loo Doo Blues and Wabash Rag. No wonder: his syncopated right hand and sure command of the fingerboard lent an infectiously joyful bounce to his playing. The 18 tracks on this collection are a mixed bag, both musically and in terms of sound quality, but it closes on a high note with the instrumental showpiece Blind Arthur's Breakdown, a timeless reminder of Blake's balance of mastery with a musical sense of humor. Mostly New to LP: Big Bill Broonzy 1921-32 offers insight into the early evolution of an artist who, unlike the first three in this set continued to record long after the Depression killed the Paramount label. The opener House Rent Stomp, is Broonzy’s recording debut and a nifty good-time guitar duet with John Thomas, who offers dry spoken asides ("Play it till the sergeant comes!"). There are other guitar duets on songs, notably with Frank Brasswell on the hokum-style Papa's Getting Hot. By 1932's solo Too Too Train Blues Broonzy sounds much as he would in later decades, both vocally and in his spare but deeply effective guitar accompaniment. There's much to like in these 16 tracks, though the sound quality on some tries the listener's patience. Happily, that's not an issue on Mostly New to LP: Mississippi Sheiks 1930 (Vol. 1). The Sheiks were essentially a two-man string band comprised of singer-guitarist Walter Vinson and singer-fiddler Lonnie Chatman with occasional assists from Bo Chatman (Carter) and Sam Chatman. The 18 tracks here show the group ‘s considerable stylistic range, from the Tommy Johnson-inspired Stop and Listen Blues to The Sheik Waltz and The Jazz Fiddler. While we might wish that more Black pre-war string bands had been recorded, we're lucky that the one that achieved commercial success (and thus recorded extensively) had so much to offer and landed on OKeh rather than Paramount, Banner, or another budget label with shoddy sound. Mostly New to LP: Lonnie Johnson (Vol. I) 1926-28 is not the place for anyone unfamiliar with Johnson to make his acquaintance. At least the first seven tracks pre-date the OKeh label's earliest electrical recordings, so the sound is muffled. Johnson is accompanist on at least a half dozen songs, many of a plodding classic blues variety. He's often heard playing something other than guitar: violin, banjo, even kazoo! There are a few standout tracks with guitar: Love Story Blues opens with a runaway solo that tells us his signature style was fully developed by early 1926. But since it was waxed in January of that year it's an acoustic recording with subpar sound. The one jaw-dropper here, the instrumental guitar tour de force To Do This, You Got to Know How, illustrates the Eurocentric exclusiveness of the "Mostly New to LP" label: it had appeared a dozen years prior to this 1986 release on the Yazoo label compilation String Ragtime: To Do This You Got to Know How. Caveat emptor.
-Mark Humphrey BLUES IN BRITAIN JAN 22 – Reviews of set 5 and Blues From the Avon Delta book Various Artists Matchbox Bluesmaster Series Vol. 5 Matchbox I Saydisc Records Here it is, box set no. 5 in this wonderful series, another six albums and 107 tracks of the very finest in recorded blues, hokum and gospel recorded between 1926 and 1932. Previous sets have included some fairly unknown artists, but this time we have some real nuggets of blues gold. First released on LP between 1982 and 1988, the wait for them to be available on CD has been worth it. This latest package includes sets by Blind Lemon Jefferson, Frank Stokes, Blind Blake, Big Bill Broonzy, the Mississippi Sheiks and Lonnie Johnson. Herein lie the roots of what we hear today and the accompanying booklet with notes from rated blues historian Paul Oliver means we get an incredible insight into these historic performances. Blind Lemon Jefferson's seventeen recordings, were recorded in '26 in Chicago and while you may not know all of the songs included here, all are pure blues gold. Blind Blake was simply an amazing guitarist, though his music is not the easiest to play as Ralph McTell will attest. Eleven of his eighteen tracks are solo performances. Frank Stokes has had many of his old recordings released over the years, but here we have twenty Memphis recordings from 1929, all demonstrating his humour, ragtime and dance rhythms. We all know Big Bill Broonzy and here we get sixteen recordings from sessions in Chicago and New York between 1927 -32, including some by Sammy Simpson, a name Broonzy sometimes used. Playing mostly around Louisiana and Texas in the early thirties were the Mississippi Sheiks that included vocalist/ guitarist Sam Chatman. Here we get just one year's output by the group all from 1930, including the superb 'Sitting On Top Of The World' The set is completed by the man that many, including B. B. King, think is the best guitarist of them all, Lonnie Johnson. Eighteen tracks recorded in both New York and St. Louis present Johnson as singer, guitarist and violinist and prove why he's regarded as one of the absolute greats. Age has done little to diminish the quality of these performances. Pete Clack Blues From The Avon Delta - The Matchbox Blues Story Mark Jones The Record Press In 1967 the Bristol based Saydisc label released its first country blues record, a 7" EP by the local trio, Anderson Jones Jackson. By 1968 it was helping three other blues labels, Sunflower, Kokomo and Highway 51 get to market. Today the company, having released well over a hundred blues LPs in its first twenty years, has been re-releasing some great country blues recordings and has now become epicentre of the U.K.'s DIY blues record label industry. The book covers this wonderfully creative period of blues in Britain with some familiar names like Jo Ann Kelly, Dave Peabody, Mike Cooper, Ian Anderson and Dave Kelly who, alongside some lesser known ones, brought the blues to the U.K. in those early years - a small record label making ends meet on a limited budget, including visits to a local photo booth to take passport photos for its record sleeves. A Research Fellow at University College Dublin, Mark Jones's book chronicles the history of the Saydisc label and its series of 1920s and 1930s blues music CDs, itemising who did what and when, through the manufacturing process, the artists, the tracks and the sleeves. This is a hugely informative book that's been made possible with the help and input of the people who were there. Pete Clack
RnR Jan 2022 VARIOUS **** Matchbox Bluesmaster Series – Set 5 (SAYDISC) www.saydisc.com This latest six-disc set from the Saydisc archives will be a welcome treat for blues historians and collectors alike. Spanning the mid-1920s to early 1930s, each disc is dedicated to a single artist and comes packaged with a comprehensive booklet from the respected blues writer, Paul Oliver. First up is Blind Lemon Jefferson, a true pioneer of recorded rural blues with his evocative vocals and superb guitar technique, demonstrated on tracks such as 'Match Box Blues' and 'Empty House Blues'. The often-unsung Frank Stokes contributes ragtime and dance rhythms plus lyrical innuendo and humour on songs such as 'I Got Mine', before Blind Blake offers varied styles, from traditional blues to collaborations with jazz artists like clarinettist Johnny Dodds and Jimmy Bertrand on xylophone, both of whom feature on a number of tracks. Big Bill Broonzy remains one of the most inspirational artists of the genre. His clean guitar sound and crisp vocals have been much copied and are included here in a variety of groupings, accompaniments and musical styles. Family-based band The Mississippi Sheiks deliver some high-energy, juke joint dance numbers, but also an interesting reworking of their most widely recorded song 'Sitting On Top Of The World'. For the first time in this series, the iconic Lonnie Johnson gets a disc to himself - a deserved reward for such a peerless singer, multi-instrumentalist and innovator. So sit back and enjoy the sources behind the birth of so much of the music we enjoy to this day. Morgon Hogarth (RnR Jan 22)
JAZZ RAG MATCHBOX BLUESMASTER SERIES SET 5 Matchbox MSESET5, 6 CDs, approx 5 hours 30 minutes The consciousness of black history that has emerged in the past few years is long, long overdue. For blues fans, however, it has created a somewhat complex mix of emotions. On the one hand, we can shake our heads ruefully and be glad that the world is at last awakening to the horror and heroism that lies at the core of the music we love. On the other hand, we suddenly find ourselves in danger of being accused of the conveniently adaptable faux pas of “cultural appropriation.” In the febrile climate of finger-pointing and statue-smashing, it can feel like an act of complacent ignorance to listen to and appreciate recordings like these from the 1920s and 1930s. What can a well-to-do white man, sitting in a centrally-heated home in the UK’s Thames Valley, know of Bill Broonzy’s plaintive expression of a deep and abiding hurt when he sings, “I was standing on the corner, I did not mean no harm....”? Its an innocuous enough line, after all. Yet in all the righteously articulate rage of the Black Lives Matter campaigning was there ever a more telling expression of what it means to be black in a white world? Consider the statement for a few moments. Bring your imagination to it. In what kind of existence does one have to qualify the act of standing on the corner? The deeper you dig into this apparently ordinary recollection, the more appalled you get. Yet underneath the racial politics is a fundamental human sadness about living without what Billy Bragg describes as “agency” – some sense of control over our lives and the outcomes of our actions. This is why collections like the Matchbox Bluesmaster Series, which Saydisc has reissued with such meticulous care in these multi-disc sets, are so important. Because, appropriate or not, we do relate to the stories they tell. And not just comfortable white people sitting in cottages in the Thames Valley, but people of every culture, everywhere in the world. These recordings have something to say about your existence whether you are an Adele fan, or a reefer-toting aficionado of Ornette Coleman. Because every backwater and flowing mainstream of Western popular music is rooted in this stuff. As you listen to these recordings, which, remember, were never intended for release as collected bodies of work, something elemental begins to rise within you. Simple as they seem, these songs, and especially the scales and inflections that the players and singers employ, tap into a timeless and universal experience of life. If we have loved and lost, if we have ever feared for our children, if we have felt the burden of debt and uncertain employment, if we have known the shouting joy of lust and triumph, then we have known what these people are singing about. Albert King called it “blues power” and it’s there even in the hokum songs and novelty features. Mind you, it’s a pretty tenuous presence on the Blind Blake cuts on which Jimmy Bertrand muddles his way round a xylophone. For the record (thank you, yes, pun intended) set five of the Matchbox Bluesmaster reissues from Saydisc features Blind Lemon Jefferson, Frank Stokes, Blind Blake, Big Bill Broonzy, The Mississippi Sheiks and Lonnie Johnson. Not a bad roster. It also has the usual authoritative liner notes by Paul Oliver. It’s great, but that almost doesn’t matter. What matters is that on February 17th, 1930, in Shreveport Louisiana, The Mississippi Sheiks recorded “Stop And Listen Blues”, which contains the essence of so much of the music that hurtled round the world and finished up with Howlin’ Wolf roaring and Robert Plant wailing and Ariana Grande doing whatever she does. It’s got squeaky violin and some solid guitar playing, and Walter Vincson (marketed as Jacobs – not THAT Walter Jacobs) sings very nicely. Yet still it grabs your vitals and twists and twists until you are weeping for his baby laid out on the coolin’ board. This collection is packed with stuff like that. Every disc pulls you in and connects you with something eternal and essential. Yes, it is a potent reminder that black lives matter. But it reaches beyond the issues of the moment to declare, across the ages, that every life matters and that, in the end, none of it matters really. Just the pain, the love and the joy we share as people, no matter what. It’s a helluva legacy. STUART MAXWELL Blues & Rhythm set 6, Mar 22 This penultimate set of 42 albums that were originally released in the 1980s, has some interesting and some fine music and I am pleased to report that the sound quality is an improvement on the fifth set, which I reviewed in B&R 366. As always it is a pleasure to read Paul Oliver's comprehensive and detailed notes and using some recent information, Tony Russell has updated a couple of Oliver's comments. It is a long time since I listened to Papa Charlie Jackson , and I realise now what I have been missing. Jackson was the first commercially popular, male blues artist to record , making over sixty titles , most of which were issued on the Paramount label. He played an unusual, six string guitar/banjo as well as a four-string banjo although he appears never to have used the traditional five-string instrument as favoured by several white, old-time musicians. On the three tracks immediately before 'Forgotten Blues', Jackson plays guitar, and these three cuts are less satisfying than his banjo playing. He had an entertaining repertoire of vaudeville and early blues songs, and Paul Oliver reckons that Jackson was also a familiar figure on several travelling medicine shows. Jackson had an attractive voice that combined with his musical dexterity, yielded some memorable and rewarding numbers such as the popular tune ' Mama Don't Allow It (And She Ain't Gonna Have It Here)', and on the comic song 'Look Out Papa Don't Tear Your Pants' , which throws in snatches of Hawaiian music, rag time syncopation and Spanish chords with some falsetto singing. Jackson wrote a couple of songs about gambling - playing the policy - and 'Four Eleven Forty Four', is enjoyable and lyrically informative. Another highlight for me is 'The Judge Cliff Davis Blues' , which is an elaborate court room saga featuring Police Commissioner Clifford Davis's crackdown on Memphis crime. All Good stuff. One of the longest running Afro-American groups was the Memphis Jug Band that played a range of blues, ragtime, comic and country and dance songs for black and white audiences. Founded by Will Shade, singer, guitarist and harmonica player, the Jug Band had about twenty musicians who at one time or another participated in the eighty-odd recordings that the Band made. Just to add to the complexity, the Memphis Jug Band used other names such as the Memphis Sheiks as in their popular rendition of 'He's In The Jailhouse Now' . The eighteen tracks selected here offer an acceptable range of the Jug Band's music with some outstanding numbers, including 'I Packed My Suitcase, Started To The Train', with Will Shade's wife, Jennie Clayton singing, 'Evergreen Money Blues', and 'Peaches In The Springtime', both with interesting lyrics and 'Tear It Down , Bed Slats And All'. As with most of the Memphis Jug Band's music, those recordings that eschew the kazoo will probably find favour with most listeners. Another leading pre-war blues guitarist was Robert Hicks - Barbecue Bob - who played a twelve-string acoustic guitar, and he was one of the Columbia label's most popular male blues artists. The first two numbers are gospel songs that were issued under Barbecue Bob's proper name as was the case with Blind Lemon Jefferson and other blues singers who played religious songs. Bob was a consummate guitar player as demonstrated on 'Easy Rider Don't You Deny My Name', and 'Ease It To Me'. With his elder brother, Charlie Hicks (who recorded as Laughing Charley and Charlie Lincoln), they recorded the entertaining, two-part hokum song 'It Won't Be Long Now' , and there are elements of the medicine show in their dialogue in 'Darktown Gamblin' - Part 1 (The Crap Game)'. (It's a pity that Part 2 was not included in this current set). The interplay between Barbecue Bob's singing, lyrics and guitar playing are heard in the enjoyable 'She's Gone Blues', Goin' Up The Country', and 'Yo Yo Blues No. 2', that was based on an Atlanta song, 'No No Blues', recorded by Willie Baker and Curley Weaver. The fourth disc features two interesting musicians that are rarely heard on any pre-war compilation of Afro-American music. Leecan & Cooksey usually played as a duo although they were sometimes joined by guitarist Alfred Martin and they were part of a five-piece band, the Dixie Jazzers Washboard Band as heard on the last four tracks of this disc. Harmonica player Robert Cooksey had an attractive style of playing, blowing rather than drawing and using high register notes that Paul Oliver aptly describes as 'warbling'. Bobbie (or Bobby, depending on the vagaries of record label publishing) played some rhythmic and single string guitar. I found the first twelve tracks heavy going as eight are instrumentals with four having a kazoo player. The standout tracks for me are the lyrically interesting 'Macon Georgia Cut Out', and the notable 'Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out', that is very different from Bessie Smith's version, recorded two years later. Paul Oliver rightly summarises the music here as occupying the hinterland between jazz, blues and vaudeville and Tony Russell elsewhere has written that the Washboard Band's efforts are 'in effect jug less jugband music', that will probably appeal to those who like the Memphis Jug Band. That said, whereas I do like Will Shade's music, I found disc four to be less enjoyable than the previous disc. One of the most popular pianists amongst his fellow musicians, the genial Roosevelt Sykes recorded prolifically for several record companies often using different pseudonyms. On disc five there are five solo tracks listed under his own name and those of Willie Kelly and Easy Papa Johnson. In Sykes' 1930 recording of 'Cotton Seed Blues', there are some lyrics that James Cotton used several years later in his version of 'Cotton Crop Blues'. Sykes provides some nice piano accompaniment to his sister, Isabel Sykes, for her two only recordings: lyrically her shrill 'In Here With Your Heavy Stuff' , with its reference to Santa Claus could be deemed to be a Christmas blues. The four cuts by Charlie McFadden are acceptable enough, but nothing to write home about. Clarence Harris is a lugubrious singer cutting only four sides with two unissued and there appears to be little known about him. The Carl Rafferty number is good and is notable for its concluding, prescient verse 'I believe I'll dust my broom'. The female vocalist Johnnie Straus was a strident singer, and she is accompanied by Sykes and an unknown violinist on 'St. Louis Johnnie Blues' , although Paul Oliver was doubtful that Sykes was the pianist and 'Blues And Gospel Records 1890-1943', fourth edition, lists the piano player as unknown. Overall, this disc is not bad in featuring some of Sykes' lesser-known titles and his tasteful accompaniment to five different singers The final disc is a sample of some of the Mississippi Sheiks' extensive recordings. The first two tracks are instrumentals that Paul Oliver thought were based on late 19th century/early 20th century waltzes, and I would be in no hurry to listen to them again. Things improve with 'Please Don't Wake It Up', that is typical of the Sheiks' entertaining songs and 'She's A Bad Girl', has some appealing lyrics concerning playing the dozens as has another gambling song 'Hitting The Numbers', that is essentially the Sheiks' greatest hit 'Sitting' On Top Of The World', retitled with different verses. Lonnie Chatman's violin playing is very good on 'Tell Me What The Cats Fight About', and 'She's Crazy About Her Lovin", and Walter Vinson (or Vincson as it was sometime spelt) puts in some simple but effective guitar work throughout. I thought that 'Bed Spring Poker', would be a salacious blues using typical imagery, but the lyrics are subtler, and the mention of ruination could allude to the risk of acquiring syphilis. As further evidence of my perverted (surely not PM. - Review Editor) thinking, I imagined that 'It's Done Got Wet', would also have a sexual theme but instead it is a celebration of the long-awaited repeal of prohibition. Paul Mooney
BLUES IN BRITAIN MARCH 2022-02-25 Matchbox Bluesmaster Series Volume 6 MSESET6 (6 CD box set) Matchbox When I began reviewing these amazing box sets last year I said they were a rare insight into the world of black music and, as each set comes along, that view has grown stronger. Some names are more familiar such as pianist and singer Roosevelt Sykes with some lesser known recordings from 1929 through to '31. The Memphis Jug Band has had many releases over the years, but here are some you will not have heard, unless you bought the vinyl release in the 1980s. Barbecue Bob gained some recognition when Eric Clapton recorded his ‘Motherless Child' on his From The Cradle album; here we have more Barbecue Bob recordings to enjoy. As far as the lesser known artists are concerned, CD I features eighteen tracks by Papa Charlie Jackson, a man in a class all by himself - he was a mighty fine and exciting guitar player with a voice that the ladies loved. 'Salt Lake City Blues', 'Mama Don't Allow It', 'I'm Tired Of Fooling Round With You', 'Look Out Papa Don't Tear Your Pants' and 'I'm Looking For A Woman Who Knows How To Treat Me Right' are amongst a set of consistently fine blues. Bobbie Leecan (guitar) and Robert Cooksey (harmonica) recorded their sixteen songs in the New York area mainly in 1927, though various other musicians appear on some tracks. Whether on their own, with the Dixie Jazzers Washboard Band or Blind Bobbie Baker, this set has some hugely enjoyable songs. The Mississippi Sheiks will need little introduction to those who know their blues and here we get another glorious set of tracks from them. With various line-ups that include the great Walter Jacobs (then known as Walter Vinson), they serve up eighteen glorious songs. Roosevelt Sykes offers another eighteen tracks of great piano blues: mainly solo, but with the odd help from Clarence Harris and Johnnie Strauss on vocals. Jug bands were very popular at the time but the leaders by far were the Memphis jug Band, who did the original version of the Rooftop Singers' 'Walk Right In' and here are tracks from sessions in Atlanta, Memphis and Chicago. Joined on a couple of tracks by The Memphis Sheiks, they deliver a first class set of some of their finest recordings. These are nuggets of pure blues gold. This series is proving beyond doubt to be something to treasure. Pete Clack
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