Document Records is on the path of putting *nearly every* American blues, old time, string band, jug band, hokum, and black gospel 78 record from the 20s thru the 50s back into print on their collections and single artist chronologies. They are now promoting their catalog with samplers, this being the first of them. There is no overarching theme here, as all the genres they deal with seem to be addressed. What’s nice is that they are featuring some pretty obscure acts here, even though they also have extensive back catalogs on better known artists. Lightnin’ Hopkins, Big Joe Williams, Son House, Roosevelt Sykes and the Memphis Jug Band are probably the best-known on this release, but Document has always relished more unsung artists — Three Stripped Gears, Hightower’s Night Hawks, and Hattie Ellis with Cowboy Jack Ramsey being just a few of the mysterious folks heard. The Document strategy is to offer up the basic details: who, what, where, when… and not fuss too much with remastering. We salute their ambition and hope they have more fiery sermons from Elder Johnson and weirdos like George Davis with his “Flesh Crawling Blues”. (( crimes ))
These tracks were recorded in 1963, just a short time before the death of Elmore James, who was sometimes known as the “King of Slide Guitar”. James experimented with electronics to make his groundbreaking sound, and many musicians such as the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones considered him an inspiration and influence.
Excellent guitar and moving vocals, most backup musicians are unknown. Solid, meaningful blues.
PGM: Track 22’s interview contains language.
The Arhoolie record label owes its beginnings to a trip its founder took in 1960 (while a teacher at Los Gatos High School!) where he met and recorded Mance Lipscomb, resulting in Arhoolie’s first release. Lipscomb (pronounce LIP-scum) was a Texas sharecropper who called himself a “songster”, sometimes improvising lyrics, other times playing traditional favorites. Great guitar work, rich voice, this is the real thing.
I have heard that blues songs about the Titanic date back to when black boxer Jack Johnson could not board, due to racist policies of the time. When the ship sank, some felt it was the hand of an angry God.
Overstreet, Reverend Louis – “With His Sons and The Congregation of St. Luke’s…” – [Mississippi Records]
subtitled “His Guitar, His Sons And The Congregation Of St. Luke’s Powerhouse Church Of God In Christ”
This is a resequenced and revised version of a 1962 Arhoolie LP (adapting the original Arhoolie sleeve art) with the Rev. Louis Overstreet (1947-1980) and his sons at one of their “services” in Phoenix, AZ. This revised edition adds some recordings from a club date in Berkeley, 1963. A “service” for Overstreet is a wild, raucous blast furnace of sanctified primal gospel anchored by Overstreet’s Strat and his sons’ percussion, with vocals by all concerned. Chris Strachwiz (still running Arhoolie today) first heard Overstreet doing his gospel work out in the street in front of a bar in the South, and then arranged to record him some years later after tracking him down again in Phoenix. Along the lines of Reverend Charlie Jackson and other electric guitar wielding holy men already in KFJC’s library, Overstreet claimed to have been chosen by God to learn the guitar and preach the good news. The first and last tracks are lengthy and furious, throwing you into the wild communion already in progress; the shorter tracks are more orderly and self contained. (( crimes ))
Mississippi native Junior Kimbrough (1930-1998) released his first album when he was 62 in 1992, so any earlier recordings are precious in that context alone. In 1966 he made his first recording at American Studios in Memphis for Quinton Claunch, founder of Hi Records. (Rumor has it that Fat Possum plans to reissue much of this label???s output.)
Kimbrough succeeded in moving away from ???blues??? commonly heard in the 1960???s and getting back to his Mississippi roots, but he somehow did in a new way. This is spectacular stuff ??? Kimbrough???s intensity, voice, and guitar are in fine form and are very affecting. Emotional, stark, very beautiful.
A healthy helping of golden era Chicago blues from a less well known, though not necessarily less talented artist – “Dirty Red” Nelson Wilborn. The very laconic delivery, common for the era, can make it difficult to feel the deep pain punctuated by irrepressable spirit and double entendre, but it also makes the seeking worthwhile. Many of the tracks sound a bit scratchy, but in turn the sound of the original pressings (these are recovered from 78s) appears to be preserved at the best quality achievable. My favorite was “What a time I’m havin'”, which is also notable for being a protest song – WWII soldiers were promised a per-diem bonus that was long delayed before it was finally paid, but there’s lots of good stuff here. A notable document and solid collection of blues.
Excellent sound quality and virtuoso boogie-woogie piano work on this Delmark release based on Euphonic Record masters. All tracks feature solo piano, some with mostly unintelligible vocals and shouts – track 9 features the glockenspiel-like tones of the celeste, track 10’s vocals are whistled. Lots of great walking bass – a text book example on track 12.
Notes: Albert Ammons is the father of sax great Gene Ammons. Meade Lux Lewis was an uncredited pianist in “It’s a Wonderful Life” in the bar where George Bailey gets thrown out.
The Mississippi Sheiks were a hugely popular Mississippi duo (with a couple of other floating members) playing a very stripped-down and aggressive style of country blues in the 1930s. Among their key songs are the still-played-today “Sittin’ on top of the World” (later versions cut by Cream, Doc Watson, and the Grateful Dead) and “World is Going Wrong” which Bob Dylan modified for an album title of one of his two collections of folk and blues cover tunes. As a tribute to their catalog, the Vancouver-based Black Hen label recorded new versions of Sheiks songs, some of them instrumentals, with an eye towards updating them rather than doing a strict recreation of their sound. The results range from the still plenty blues-oriented John Hammond and Kelly Joe Phelps, to Danny Barnes’ banjo pickin,’ to jazz inflected Bill Frisell and Madeleine Peyroux and the almost art song approach of Robin Holcomb. As is always the case with these collections, some of this may not float your boat but in general many of these performances capture the spirit of the Sheiks, if not their actual sound. ((crimes))
Another mysterious vinyl release (limited to 1,000 copies) from Mississippi Records in Portland OR, who don’t actually care to put the name of their company on their releases (I wrote it on the cover myself), and don’t even have a website (all online info about their releases is compiled by third parties). This one is mostly country blues 78s from 1927-1934… not all of them are that uncommon, but there’s a few new additions here for KFJC’s blues holdings. Like some other Mississippi compilations, the mastering quality is very good, and the cover art is appealing, but the annotation is limited: you get artist names and track titles – anything beyond that requires some research (I’ve added year of release on the cover tracklist). Among the tracks we didn’t have at KFJC already, the Buster Johnson track features some rough sounding fiddle, Little Hat Jones’s track was used in “Ghost World”, Louie Lasky is pretty obscure but well regarded among guitar players, and Willie Baker is also very obscure, with a distinctive 12 string sound. >crimes
This is the second album from the Chicago Blues Harmonica Project featuring 6 Chicago based harmonica players – each plays 2 tracks for a total of 12. It shows that ???blues harp??? is still alive and well in the Windy City. All tracks are backed up by the Chicago Bluesmasters. (piano/guitar/bass/drums).
All harmonica players sing and play well ??? lively tunes with fun lyrics. Not groundbreaking, but solid competent blues.
This CD was produced to accompany I Got Two Wings, Lynn Abbots???s book on the electric guitar playing evangelist Rev. Utah Smith who was an important figure in the mostly black Pentecostal Church of God in Christ. He performed wearing wings and the CD includes a number of versions of the title song. The album also includes Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sister Sarah James and others associated with the COGIC. Tracks are from the 1920???s through 1950???s.
Very fine gospel shouting and singing, great guitar playing.
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe – “1929-1934 Recordings In Chronological Order Vol. 2” – [Document Records]
Memphis Minnie (1897-1973) and Kansas Joe (married to each other at the time) were discovered on the streets of Memphis and had recently moved to Chicago for a recording contract in the early 1930???s when these tracks were made. Fine vocals and guitar from both on a variety of blues topics from being deathly ill with meningitis (???Memphis Minnie-Jitis Blues???) to a story about a horse (???Frankie Jean???). Plenty of sexual innuendo on ???Bumble Bee???, ???What???s the matter with the mill???? and many others.
Liner notes identify specific musicians for each track. Track 11 has whistling, 16 and 17 jug band and harmonica.
A Big Guitar kinda blues, but with a heavy Jazz/ 40’s-50’s R&B influence from
this Chicago based electric guitarist/songwriter, Dave Specter and his
Bluebirds. There is a solid two horn section and a groovin HAMMOND B-3 from
veteran Brother Jack McDuff, along with vocals and harmonica work from Lynwood
Slim (a SoCal blues guy since the 70’s.) Really a good feel to this record. I like!
Downhome blues with Riley on guitar and vocals and
Corritone on harmonica. The duo and the label Blue Witch
Records are from Phoenix, Arizona. Both spent time in
the Chicago blues scene, Riley grew up in Mississippi.
Well played and good listening, but not breaking any new
ground. The possible exception is ???Overalls??? where
Riley tells us he shouldn???t wear overalls because he doesn???t
wear underdrawers ??? too much information blues?
Aladdin Records (aka Philo and Lamp) was founded in Hollywood by the Mesner brothers in 1946 and recorded some jazz, lots of R&B, and early rock ???n??? roll. This out-of-print 2-CD set hits the high points of their artists??? work. Upbeat, lots of innuendo, fun!
The earlier works are especially delightful ??? but a few of the later tracks are pretty typical bop-bop-she-bop stuff.
Language on Mother Fuyer, CD 1, track 6.
Piano rolls produced by Johnson from 1917-1921 and then
played on a Steinway upright player piano and recorded in 1970.
Great tunes that give a glimpse of the vituosity of the musician and
the fine detail and speed which were possible with these
Johnson lived from 1894 to 1955 and influenced Fats Waller and George Gershwin.
These recordings from 1951 ??? 1956 show off Lenoir???s songwriting, guitar playing and sweet boyish voice. Unusual for blues at the time is that some songs tackle national issues such as Eisenhower, the Korean War, and paying taxes. Plenty of hints of early rock and roll.
John Mayall and Elvis Costello, who have covered his songs, cite Lenoir as an influence. Born in 1929, Lenoir died in a car accident in 1967.
Steve Mann released a few LPs in the 60s highlighting his renditions of traditional (such as John Hurt, Blind Lemon Jefferson) and contemporary (Mose Allison) blues, and he spent some time as a session man in LA backing artists like Dr John and even Sonny & Cher, but he???s often been sidelined by mental illness and has only recently been performing again. It???s a shame he hasn’t had more attention, as his guitar playing is quite distinctive, almost pianistic in scope rather than just a duplication of traditional blues styles. These recordings are mostly taken from non-commercial sessions at clubs and settings like apartment rooms, with tapes offered up by longtime fans like Stefan Grossman. Three tracks with a pre-Big Brother Janis Joplin date back to 1964 and feature her doing traditional blues. One new track, the instrumental ???Hasta Luego???, was recorded especially for this release, and shows that Mann???s playing skills are not diminished. You can also find Steve on the first “Imaginational Anthem” collection, where he’s featured on 2 tracks.
The Country Girls! 1927-1935: 16 Rare Blues and Ballads with Guitar
10 female country blues artists from 1927-1934. Some overlap here with other more modern day collections in KFJC’s holdings (Geeshie Wiley, Lucille Bogan, Memphis Minnie), but a few welcome obscurities like Rose Mae Moore and Lillian Miller. Many of these tracks are voice accompanied by one or two guitars, with a few having additional players and a couple of male visitors interjecting comments or cackling. Always amazing to hear the sound of untrained voices, telling it like it was, and the guitar playing here is often fascinating as well.
Casey Bill Weldon:
1935-1937 Remaining Titles & Alternate Takes
The final volume of Document???s trawl through Casey Bill???s extensive recordings, presenting a wide range of settings for his really exceptional guitar playing and vocals. All recordings made in Chicago, the topics here including street walkers and race horses, as well as some supernatural business. The Washboard Rhythm King tracks (side 1, tracks 5-8) are a hokum band with clarinet, kazoo, and washboard. The last three tracks here feature ???His Orchestra???, with one-time Washboard Rhythm King Arnett Nelson on clarinet along with several unknown players delivering a surprisingly full sound. As is often the case with Chicago sessions of the time, Tampa Red, Bill Broonzy and Peetie Wheatstraw make appearances.
12345 S. El Monte Road Los Altos Hills, California 94022
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