Sunday, November 21, 2010

MC Storm and DJs Code II- Girlfriends (1988)

"It's RAW (it's raw it's raw it's raw it's raw it's raw it's raw)."
-MC Storm

Now generally I like to bring you the finest in out-of-print recordings....and though the nature of the beast is sometimes prickly and scratchy, I take fairly painstaking care to make the music as enjoyable to listen to as possible. Who likes to nod into a groove only to be rudely jerked out of it by an earsplitting crack? Nobody. Today's offering, therefore, is presented as more historical in interest than musical.

The cause of this is an incredibly low-quality pressing from a local label here in Rochester, New York. How low-quality? So low-quality that tiny pieces of the vinyl (if it is in fact vinyl) actually scrape off of the record as you play it and adhere to the needle, fucking up the sound as the track progresses. No my needle isn't too heavy, and neither is it black-colored dirt that was not adequately cleaned out of the grooves. This thing was pressed on a graham cracker, and it sounds like it.

That being said, I like to represent Rochester whenever possible, and it's not possible that often. If you've visited you know why. Like many Great Lakes cities its days of glory as the "Young Lion of the West" are long past. In addition, it's the most polluted city in New York State, not generally thought of as the least polluted state in the Union. The local contribution to the world of fine dining is the garbage plate. The local accent is generally described as nasal. Bumper stickers read "Rochester: It's an acquired taste." Like an open 40 of malt liquor finely aged in a car left in the sun.

Nonetheless, we've got some things going for us. There is a long, long history of radical politics. There is a world-class art-house movie theater, and not least of all, several great record stores + richer days behind us = superb digging opportunities.

It is from this environment that I bring you MC Storm and DJs Code II, a hardcore crew bringing it heavy, raw and rough in '88. James Brown cut up in spurts and chirps. Echo tape delay deployed like it was discovered yesterday and that using it as much as possible is the sole requirement for getting into heaven tomorrow. If you only know the Fresh Prince or N.W.A. from this era there's a whole world of strangeness waiting for you below the veneer of commercially successful music. Weird stuff by people with emotions deeper than their talent, experimenting in their basements and garages, having fun and expressing themselves in ways unintelligible and upsetting to their neighbors. Like all eras of music. Dirty, deteriorating, absurd, angry, and sometimes startling, this record doesn't give a fuck. It's everything I like about my hometown.

It's raw.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blind Blake- A Second Album Of Bahamian Songs (1952)

In eighteen-hundred and ninety one, before I'd work I'd rather be hung
In eighteen-hundred and ninety two, I bought a sharp axe and cut working too
In eighteen-hundred and ninety three, somebody had a job was looking for me
In eighteen-hundred and ninety four, I swear by God she wouldn't work no more

Couldn't do it boy
You shall be free
I'm too lazy boy
You shall be free
When the Good Lord sets you free

Not to be confused with the American blues guitar virtuoso, Blake Alphonso Higgs of Nassau, Bahamas, was an early folk calypso artist who enjoyed some commercial success selling those LPs to cruise passengers put out by tourist board type organizations that show up in the racks with some frequency. Indeed, Blake may have been the main reason for the launching of ART (American Recording and Transcription) Records, a label based out of a Miami hotel, as the first three records in their discography feature Mr. Blake and his Royal Victoria Hotel "Calypsonians."

Featuring all the hallmarks of great calypso- a dancing beat, bawdy wordplay, jokes about booze, excellent musicianship (tight and loose), this album also has something more. Blake has a charisma that still works- the jokes are still funny and the sadness is still sad. It also features an early version of Sloop John B. There are about 3 skips on the album, but I've edited them out so they only make for minimal unpleasantness on the playback. Please email me if you have any of his other stuff- the 78s or the other version of "Conch Ain't Got No Bone" on King...I would love to hear it.

Hoist up the John Botched Surgery


[Original Liner Notes]

A Second Album of BAHAMIAN SONGS BY "Blind Blake" AND THE Royal Victoria Hotel "Calypso" Orchestra

Blake (center), and his boys, strum their tunes in the dreamy, near-tropical atmosphere of their native Bahamas. From time to time, they are joined by a pair of drums, cleaver (or "catacoo"), "Music" (a dog), and a pair of itinerant maracas. The result is a blend of folk-song, calypso, and "early" jazz that, combined with a really amazing repertoire of local ballads (if Blake doesn't know it, he'll invent it) has kept the coins jingling in their hats for over twenty years now. Blake's popular first album of records (also on LP) included "J.P. Morgan," "Jones (Oh Jones," "Yes, Yes, Yes," "Pretty Boy," "Run Come See," "Love, Love Alone," "Lord Got Tomatoes," "Pigeon," "Watermelon Spoilin' on the Vine," and "Never Interfere With Man and Wife", and eleven more selections are hereby added to the list. We have included several which, though not Bahamian in origin, have been around Nassau long enough to have acquired a definite Bahamian accent. While our "
Gin and Coconut Water" varies but little from the standard Caribbean version, the three tunes in the "West Indian Melody" are heavily embroidered with local references, most of them from the old "bootlegging" days. "My Freckle-Faced Consumptive Sara Jane," and "1891", longtime local favorites, are often recognized as versions of old American folk tunes.

But thoroughly Bahamian is "
Peas and Rice" ("Mama don' Wants no Peas, no Rice, no Coconut Oil...") sometimes referred to as the "Bahamian National Anthem," and sure to be familiar to all but the deafest cruise passenger who has spent a day in Nassau. The tune originated here during the first World War, when the scarcity of imported cooking fats forced the substitution of local coconut oil as a culinary medium- to the increasing disgust of its users. By stinting himself on verses (of which there are "several"), Blake has included on the same record another favourite of those guitar-slung, straw-hatted troubadours who peddle their musical wares from Bay Street to Grant's Town and back again. As surely as Mr. and Mrs. Cruise Passenger are greeted at the dock by "Peas and Rice and Coconut Oil"- they climb wearily aboard the tender, that night, clutching their straw bags and their perfume, their two gallons of duty-free liquor, and their heads, to the insistent and now familiar refrain of "Little Nassau, little Nassau- you'll have a won-der-ful time in Nassau-u-u!" It's a real tourist tune, with its obvious origin during the days of "Prohibition", when the tourist trade was still in its barefooted infancy, and Nassau had something more important than sunshine, palm trees, and eternal June, to offer its thirsty American visitors.

One of the oldest and best-loved Bahamian songs is the tragi-comic ballad "
The John B. Sail". The "John B." was an old sponger boat whose crew were in the habit of getting notoriously merry, whenever they made port. A popular version of this song has recently become well-known in the U.S., under the title "The Wreck of the John B."...."A Conch Ain't Got Not Bone" drifted into Nassau town, with Blake on an Out-Island sloop, about 20 years back. We hope its references to "mosquito" and "sandfly," some of our less ingratiating local characters, will not offend the Development Board. We hasten to add that the song refers to tame ones, who will not bite! As for "Conch," that talented univalve whose exotic shell adorned Grandma's what-not, makes cameos, buttons- "he" is delicious- stewed, fried, in fritters, chowder, or "en casserole"- no bones either.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pannalal Ghosh- Raag Yaman / Raag Shri (1960)

"Dr. Raghava Menon narrates a very touching anecdote about Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan sahib. He fondly remembers that when he once met the Ustad just before his death ; the Ustad had told him “Now my life is reaching towards Yaman." The Ustad intuitively realised that the dusk of his life was near and hence drew this beautiful analogy between his life and Raag Yaman, a raag to be sung after twilight hours."
-Site devoted to this raga; the first students are taught and "King of Ragas"

shri: (Sanskrit) "Auspicious. Holy. Beauty."
-Sanskrit Hinduism Dictionary

Pannalal Ghosh's excellent evening flute ragas were the second release (after an Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar duet) on the Gramophone Company of India label and the first distributed in the U.S. via His Master's Voice.



[Original Liner Notes]



Indian music is built on Ragas which are melodic forms and are based on (i) Parent Scales 72 in number and (ii) ascending and descending modal scales known as Arohana and Avarohana respectively. Each Raga has its own character, colour and mood which go to build up an atmosphere appropriate to the time of day or night, season or occasion. It is a matter of common experience that a melody sung or played out of its scheduled time invariably fails to achieve this object.

An Octave in the Indian scale has besides the principle seven notes five semitones which are either flat (Komal) or sharp (Teevra). The seven notes are known as Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni. Of these, Sa and Pa, that is the Tonic and the Dominant notes, are immovable whereas the remaining five are variable.

Indian music is predominantly melodic in character and although harmony in its simplest form may be present, it is inherent rather than deliberate. For the better and finer enjoyment of Indian music Western audiences will do well to keep all though of harmony and counterpoint out of their minds and relax in the rich melody and rhythm as well as the exquisitely subtle inflections through which the atmosphere of a Raga is built up.

Indian classical music is not preconceived or pre-written. Within the framework of the rules governing the Raga and the limitations on use of particular notes either in ascent or descent, an artiste has complete freedom for the play of his imagination and his skill. It is this capacity to improvise and create new patterns at every step that determines the stature of the artiste.


The magic flute of this celebrated artiste was silenced forever as a result of his untimely death in New Delhi recently. And Indian classical music suffered an irreparable loss as Pannalal Ghosh was one of its finest exponents.

Born on 31st July 1911 in the Barisal District of the former East Bengal, now East Pakistan, he evinced keen interest in music even as a child. Curiously enough it was the humble bamboo flute, which not so long ago was considered worthy only of folk music in India, that took his fancy. In his youth he developed a passion for this simple instrument and his most significant achievement in the realm of music lies in the fact that he more than any one else raised the flute to the status of a full-fledged concert instrument.

There is hardly anything in classical music that Pannalal Ghosh was not able to interpret on the flute and his performances were highlighted by the superb technique of Pure Exposition of the Ragas coupled with the soft, mellow, and soothing tone of his instrument which he specially designed. It is an outsize flute about 32" long and the seven holes on it are so wide apart that no ordinary flute player can play on it with ease and proficiency that this gifted Flutist exhibited in his playing whilst weaving intricate patterns in the course of elaboration of a Raga.

At the time of his demise Pannalal Ghosh was conductor of the National Orchestra of All India Radio at New Delhi in which capacity he distinguished himself with his highly imaginative and delightful compositions based on classical Ragas. Before that for a number of years he was composing music for the films in Bombay, some of which were big musical hits of their time. The changing trends in film music did not however suit his temperament and genius, which were more to the classical side, and he started concentrating more and more on his instrument appearing in concerts and music festivals all over the country before he got his last assignment with All India Radio.

This is a most popular Raga having all the 7 notes both in Ascent (Arohana) and Descent (Avarohana). The usual practice is to expound this Raga in the evening or early part of the night. It creates a very quiet and subdued atmosphere and is very serene in character. The slow moving flow of the exposition unfolding the ever surpassing beauty of the melody in the process of elaboration speaks volumes for the imagination and skill of the artiste. The first part is confined to a Tal (Rhythm) known as "Zoomra". This consists of 14 equal beats divided into two equal parts of 7 each. This is followed by a melody in the same Raga but in a faster tempo and is confined to the Tal (Teental) consisting of 16 beats divided into four groups.

This Raga too is an evening melody. Its mood and character are serious and dignified and it is very difficult to expound. As the notes permissible in this Raga are also permissible in some other Ragas, the skill of the artiste lies in weaving such note-combinations alone as would distinguish it from other similar Ragas. The artiste after a short "Alap" or introduction in the beginning plays a melody in Tal Talwada consisting of 16 equal beats (Matras) and gradually develops the mood of the Raga by the combination of the notes peculiar to it. Later he switches over to faster melody in Teen Tal which consists of 16 equal beats divided into four equal groups.

The freedom and ease with which the artiste moves throughout a range of over three octaves in both these expositions provide an experience to the listener as rich as it is rare.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Jimmy Smith- Black Smith (1974)

Greetings all. Today brings with it another album loathed by genre purists: Jimmy Smith's excellent "Black Smith," which, despite my label, is very little like a jazz record at all. Released in 1974 by MGM's music subsidiary, Pride Records, "Black Smith" is a heavily-produced funk/soul excursion built on surf-rock, R&B, funk, pop and soundtrack covers, with a very tasty version of Bach's "Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring" thrown in for good measure. Jimmy sings on two tracks (which is either good news or bad news, depending on your tastes), though, with the exception of female background singers, the album, like most of Smith's work, is mostly instrumental.

The track selection here reflects the taste of producer Michael Viner, the founder and mastermind behind the Incredible Bongo Band, forever immortalized by their cover of "Apache", the mothertrack to countless hip hop standards and the song you hear in your head when you picture someone breakdancing. Hope you like it, and sorry I had to break it into 2 pieces for download. Enjoy!

Side A
Side B

P.S. The cover is the artwork of the bassist Klaus Voorman, who also did the spidery drawing/collage cover of the Beatles' "Revolver."


[Original Liner Notes]

Side A
(By Dominique Frontiere. Time 6:17)
(By Barry White. Time 4:31)
3. JOY
(By Johann Sebastian Bach. Time 3:30)
(By Jessie Hill. Time 3:11)
(By Timmy Thomas. Time 5:26)

Side B
(By Felix Cavaliere & Eddie Brigati. Time 3:03)
(By Bob Spickard & Brian Carman. Time 7:58)
(By David Richardson & Doug Edwards. Time 6:05)
(By Chris Kenner. Time 4:00)

Cover art: Klaus Voorman

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Nighthawk Records Series!

Hello all. Over the next half dozen posts we'll be looking at the bulk of Nighthawk Records' blues discography from the early 1980s. Nighthawk, like Arhoolie and Delmark, was a U.S. based label dedicated to reissuing rare early blues records. Located in St. Louis, they had an interesting focus on Northern urban blues recorded by first or second generation transplants from the rural South. For this reason there's a wonderful mishmash of acoustic and electric guitars, drums, upright basses, washboards, saxophones and generally a lot of great music where roots, blues, R&B, jazz, boogie-woogie and early rock collide. I'll let the liner notes speak for individual releases, but none of these are less than great.

Also, check out their website and order some stuff from them- they're now a roots reggae label representing some great 70s acts, and attempting an online discography/database of all Jamaican roots records from 1960-1985, Roots Knotty Roots. Tuff work indeed!


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Nighthawk 101 / Windy City Blues: The Transition 1935 to 1953

Side A
Side B


[Original Liner Notes]

Pinetop Every Day I Have The Blues (1935)
State Street Boys Sweet To Mama (1935)
Washboard Sam Easy Ridin' Mama (1937)
Robert Lee McCoy Prowlin' Nighthawk (1937)
Sonny Boy Williamson Sunnyland (1938)
Sonny Boy Williamson My Little Cornelius (1938)
Robert Lockwood Black Spider Blues (1941)
Robert Lockwood I'm Gonna Train My Baby (1941)

Guitar Pete Franklin Down Behind The Rise (1945)
Guitar Pete Franklin Casey Brown Blues (1947)
Tampa Red Green And Lucky Blues (1951)
Robert Lockwood Gonna Dig Myself A Hole (1951)
Robert Lockwood Dust My Broom (1951)
Tony Hollins Fishin' Blues (1952)
Tony Hollins Wino Woman (1952)
Johnny Shines Please Don't (1953)

This first issue of Nighthawk Records documents primarily the transitional work of Southern born bluesmen who immigrated to Chicago before the Second World War, but whose careers endured into the postwar era. The lure of the major studios and the easy availability of club work on the growing South Side made the Windy City the natural destination of talented blues musicians and the local blues scene was firmly established by the late twenties when the vanguard included Tampa Red, Big Bill, and Georgia Tom. The thirties brought Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Nighthawk, Washboard Sam and Memphis Minnie while the forties produced Robert Lockwood, Johnny Shines and Muddy Waters.

The enduring standard, "Everyday I Have The Blues" made its initial appearance in duet context pairing pianist Aaron "Pinetop" Sparks with guitarist Henry Townsend. Both men shared a St. Louis background but traveled frequently to Chicago to make records. Townsend's guitar work with pianists, Walter Davis, Roosevelt Sykes and Pinetop rivals the best work of Scrapper Blackwell and Leroy Carr for excitement and rhythmic tension.

The State Street Boys is, by any standard, certainly an all star group featuring Big Bill Broonzy in the company of Jazz Gillum, Carl Martin and Black Bob. Bill's smooth vocal is framed by Gillum and Martin's respective harmonica and violin solos which recall the jug band sounds of Memphis in a more sophisticated and urban setting. However, while retaining a prewar feel, the ensemble approach on "Sweet To Mama" contains, with the exception of drums, all the elements identified with Chicago blues of the fifties. Broonzy's generosity to newcomers is well known, but none benefited so much as Washboard Sam whom Broonzy claimed as his half brother. Broonzy wrote virtually all of Sam's material and participated regularly on his many recording dates including the session that produced "Easy Ridin' Mama," a tune that Broonzy first waxed in 1930. Sam's deep voice on this swinging rendition of the hokum favorite is ideally complimented by the clarinet artistry of the underrated Arnett Nelson supported by Black Bob's piano, Bill's guitar, and Sam's own washboard.

The May 5, 1937 session that produced "Prowlin' Nighthawk" and introduced Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Nighthawk to the public ranks with the most important in blues history. Big Joe Williams rounded out the trio and the sixteen resulting titles greatly influenced the postwar trend toward harmonica/guitar duets and trios. The success of "Prowlin' Nighthawk" even prompted Robert Lee McCoy to drop his surname in favor of the more roguish Nighthawk and to adopt the tune as his early signature piece. Sonny Boy Williamson's unique harmonica and vocal style revealed that day, created quite a sensation and he was soon a regular session man appearing on literally hundreds of records. Another early Sonny Boy session gave us "Sunnyland" and "My Little Cornelius," this time with his old Tennessee associates, Yank Rachell on mandolin and Joe Williams (not Big Joe) on guitar. Rachell's first Chicago recordings were done during this session and the group reformed a few months later to record again with vocals by all three. "Sunnyland" is a classic example of Sonny Boy's early style, but "Cornelius" betrays a debt to the recordings of Sleepy John Estes, whose vocal phrasing he often emulated.

Robert Lockwood, the stepson of Mississippi blues giant Robert Johnson, is represented here by both prewar and postwar performances. "Black Spider" and "Gonna Train My Baby" are his first recordings done three years after Johnson's death, but are instrumentally faithful to his mentor's work. "Black Spider" was learned directly from Johnson who never recorded the theme himself, but inspired versions by Lockwood, Muddy Waters, and Johnny Shines. Lockwood says he only began to develop his own ideas as a guitarist after Johnson's death and the 1951 duets with pianist Sunnyland Slim show considerable expansion. "Dust My Broom" is a very rushed version of the Johnson standard with few surprises, but the cold war regular, "Gonna Dig Myself A Hole" contains sparse exciting guitar work. Though seldom featured as a vocalist, Lockwood was perhaps the most recorded guitarist of the fifties Chicago scene and appeared on countless sides by Sonny Boy No. 2, Little Walter, Sunnyland Slim and others.

Indianapolis based Guitar Pete Franklin only made a few trips to the Windy City and his presence on this collection is primarily due to the Chicago location of the session rather than the content of the performances. Franklin ran with Scrapper Blackwell for decades, but his guitar style represented here in duet with an unknown pianist, is not derivative but is certainly of the same school. The included titles represent Pete's total output as a "race" vocalist, however he subsequently played on a John Brim session for JOB before being rediscovered in the early sixties and recording one long out of print album.

"Green And Lucky" was recorded late in Tampa Red's prolific career but finds him at the top of his form playing slide guitar more loudly than usual, perhaps to compete with the huge success of Robert Nighthawk's adaptations of his style. The fine pianist is Little Johnny Jones who recorded regularly for Tampa, sometimes sharing the vocal chores. Jones also made sides under his own name an appeared on records by Muddy Waters and Elmore James. Tampa's career spanned twenty-five years as "The Guitar Wizard" and his sensitive bottleneck playing deeply influenced virtually all of Chicago's best slide technicians.

Tony Hollins is a very obscure figure sometimes credited with the authorship of "Crawlin' Kingsnake" which he recorded in 1941 and again in '52, but Big Joe Williams was first on record with the number some three months earlier. "Wino Woman" and "Fishin' Blues" are from a 1952 session (his last) which is omitted from the standard discography, but which produced four titles with Sunnyland Slim on piano, Hollins on second guitar, and an unknown yet spectacular acoustic guitarist capoed high on the fretboard and executing his runs with a flatpick.

Johnny Shines' "Please Don't" finds him in an unusual band setting with J.T. Brown on saxophone and Sunnyland Slim on piano. Though little is made of it, Shines does admit a vocal debt to Washboard Sam and a comparison of their titles on this album reflects the influence. Shines, of course, is best known for his down home material, but he fares well on this jump blues.

-Leroy Pierson

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nighthawk 102 / Chicago Slickers 1948 to 1953

"Once I had a woman, who treat me nice and kind. But these Chicago slickers made my baby change her mind."

-Guitar Pete Franklin-

Side A

Side B


[Original Liner Notes]

Little Walter I Want My Baby (1948)
Floyd Jones School Days (1948)
Floyd Jones Hard Times (1948)
Forest City Joe A Woman On Every Street (1948)
Little Walter Just Keep Lovin' Her (1950)
John Brim Dark Clouds (1951)
John Brim Lonesome Man Blues (1951)
Earl Hooker Sweet Angel (1952)

Johnny Shines Ramblin' (1952)
Johnny Shines Cool Driver (1952)
Homesick James Lonesome Ole Train (1952)
Homesick James Farmer's Blues (1952)
Delta Joe Train Time (1953)
Big Boy Spires About To Lose My Mind (1953)
Floyd Jones Early Morning (1953)
Robert Nighthawk Maggie Campbell (1953)

This issue of Nighthawk Records presents sixteen classic recordings from Chicago's heyday as a blues center. The rapid local proliferation of small independent labels during the postwar years and the shoe-string economics practiced by their owners, fostered a fierce competitiveness more than matched in the musical community. Unfortunately, the failure of such small labels as Parkway, Tempotone and Random often obscured in extreme rarity even the most inspired performances by such regional heavyweights as Little Walter, Floyd Jones, John Brim and Johnny Shines. The resurrection of these important recordings will be cause for celebration in blues circles.

"I Want My Baby," the first studio collaboration of Little Walter and Muddy Waters, was waxed at a 1948 session secured by keyboard man Sunnyland Slim. This uptempo blues features trio vocals on the chorus with Walter in the lead role throughout and blowing acoustic harmonica reminiscent of his work for the Ora Nelle label one year earlier. The same session apparently produced the Floyd Jones titles "Hard Times" and "School Days," although only Sunnyland remains from the former group. Both numbers offer the well thought out and original quality of Jones' best work, yet despite this and the forceful instrumental delivery, the platter was doomed to obscurity by the early demise of the financially overextended Tempotone label. Jones remade both titles in 1955 for Vee Jay and their distribution network turned the pair into a regional hit.

The vocal and harmonica phrasing o Forest City Joe Pugh's "A Woman On Every Street" reveals his adulation of of John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson who inspired a whole generation of postwar harmonica stylists. Indeed, the flip side of this rarity is a "Memory of Sonny Boy" which recounts the tragic details of Williamson's violent death only a few months earlier on Windy City streets. Little Walter acknowledged only Sonny Boy as his influence and equal, yet Walter's recorded work seldom betrayed the debt, but rather set the pace for a new generation to follow. "Just Keep Lovin' Her" is a remake for Parkway of Walter's 1947 debut recording, but in contrast to the earlier effort, he plays harp right into the microphone on this version with long exuberant solos enhanced by the presence of Muddy Waters and Baby Face Leroy in supporting roles.

The husband and wife team, John and Grace Brim, traveled extensively during the early fifties and recorded in both Detroit and St. Louis before settling into the Chicago blues scene and their Gary, Indiana home in 1952. John's duets with pianist Roosevelt Sykes for the St. Louis based Random label constitute his debut although he played guitar on an earlier session in Detroit featuring wife Grace and the legendary Big Maceo. Brim's guitar style is indebted to the work of Indianapolis residents, Scrapper Blackwell and Pete Franklin, who even played lead guitar on a subsequent Brim session for JOB which included two versions of the Naptown standard, "Hard Pill To Swallow."

Though recorded in Memphis, Earl Hooker's "Sweet Angel" is rooted in the work of Chicago artists Tampa Red and Robert Nighthawk who both waxed earlier versions of this blues standard. Tampa's 1934 version already utilized the slide guitar patterns heard here, but Hooker learned the piece from Robert Nighthawk and executed it with the over-amplification so common among Memphis bluesmen of the period. The addition of drone-like harmonica accompaniment by an unknown provides the perfect foil for the gravel-throated Hooker.

Johnny Shines' masterpiece is certainly his 1952 recording, "Ramblin'" containing some of the most stunning slide guitar and vocal work ever waxed. Perhaps the familiarity of the traditional lyrics accounts for the intensity of the vocal which seems inspired even for Shines. The session also produced another slide classic, "Fishtail Blues," a version of mentor Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues" which remains unissued and "Cool Driver," by comparison a subdued effort with original lyrics, and, according to Shines, Moody Jones in the role of second guitarist. Shines claims to also have recorded another version of this tune for the same label with harmonica by Snooky Pryor, but it was not released.

Homesick James Williamson launched his recording career in 1952 with the newly formed Chance label and the release of "Lonesome Ole Train" and "Farmer's Blues," two traditional themes enhanced by the playing of pianist Lazy Bill Lucas. "Lonesome Ole Train" is an adaptation of Tommy Johnson material while "Farmer's Blues" is a staple of Texas bluesmen, Lightnin' Hopkins, Smoky Hogg, Lowell Fulson, etc. But all similarity to the parent pieces is confined to the lyrics, as Homesick's unorthodox bottleneck treatment would be totally out of place in either Johnson's songbook or the entire state of Texas.

"Train Time," a duet between Sunnyland Slim (Delta Joe) and guitarist Baby Face Leroy, was first issued on Opera, then retitled and reissued as "4 O'Clock Blues" on Chance. Slim's downhome vocal ranks with his best, but Leroy dominates the side by the sheer force of his magnificent solo built of biting mandolin-like phrases.

Guitarist Arther "Big Boy" Spires made only a few recordings before rejoining the Chicago labor force, but he had a deep resonant voice well-suited to the traditional Mississippi blues that made up the bulk of his material. "About To Lose My Mind" was recorded in a basement with a four piece group including veterans, John Lee Henley and Johnny Williams, who both made records under their own names. Despite the murky sound quality of the sessions, Spire's moving singing is shown to good advantage.

The influence of Tommy Johnson is again felt in the closing performances by Floyd Jones and Robert Nighthawk. Jones was familiar with both Johnson and his one-time partner, Charlie Patton, and reworked their "Pony Blues" into the beautiful "Early Morning" which uses the same guitar figure that proved successful on Floyd's earlier "Dark Road" and "On The Road Again." Little Walter's sensitive harmonica backing and Floyd's string slapping support the hoarse shouted vocal in a truly classic performance. Robert Nighthawk recorded as early as 1937, but his knowledge of Tommy Johnson's style was gained second-hand under the tutelage of Memphis' Houston Stackhouse. Nighthawk retains the lyrics of the original "Maggie Campbell," but substitutes the guitar part from another Johnson song, "Big Fat Mama." Bob Call is the fine pianist on this title.

Leroy Pierson

Monday, May 31, 2010

Nighthawk 104 / Detroit Ghetto Blues 1948 to 1954

"Just because he's got a Cadillac with that hydromatic drive, you don't ask him for no money. All you want to do is ride."
-Baby Boy Warren-

Side A
Side B


[Original Liner Notes]

Slim Pickens Papa's Boogie (1948)
Walter Mitchell Pet Milk Blues (1948)
Walter Mitchell Stop Messin' Around (1948)
L.C. Green Little School Girl (1952)
L.C. Green Going Down To The River (1952)
Sam Kelly Ramblin' Around Blues (1952)
Playboy Fuller Gonna Play My Guitar (1952)
Playboy Fuller Sugar Cane Highway (1952)

Rocky Fuller Soon One Morning (1952)
Rocky Fuller Come On Baby Now (1952)
Robert Henry Something's Wrong (1952)
Baby Boy Warren Hello Stranger (1953)
Henry Smith Lonesome Blues (1954)
Henry Smith Good Rockin' Mama (1954)
Baby Boy Warren Taxi Driver (1954)
Baby Boy Warren Bad Lover Blues (1954)

Though never really a blues recording center, by the mid twenties Detroit boasted a sizable black community attracted from the South by auto industry employment. Some like Charlie Spand and Big Maceo traveled to Chicago to record, but it was not until the late forties that local bluesmen had a chance to record on their own ground. A number of small time entrepreneurs began mastering titles in their record shop basements either for lease to established companies or for release on their own obscure labels which more often than not,found their only distribution outlet on the upstairs counter. Most Detroit artists were destined for the same commercial failure that eventually overcame such operations as Staff, Sampson, JVB and Von. Only John Lee Hooker was able to overcome the distribution nightmare and his success was achieved and exploited through a lease agreement with the West Coast Modern label. Included in this anthology are performances of legendary rarity and artistic merit that originated in the Motor City during the years 1948 to 1954.

Joe Von Battle, whose work constitutes the majority of this album, set up shop on Hastings street in 1948 and began recording bluesmen for his JVB and Von labels. The product was primitive from an engineering viewpoint and his distribution was terrible, but his labels always featured performances of great historical interest and musical worth. His first release was the strange Walter Mitchell coupling featuring Mitchell's own vocal and harp, second harp by Robert Richard, Boogie Woogie Red on piano, and an unknown bass. "Pet Milk Blues" is a version of a 1938 Walter Davis composition which also inspired J.B. Hutto's "Pet Cream Man," and "Stop Messin' Around" is loosely based on Robert Johnson's "Stop Breaking Down." The eerie effect of the two harps in competition is heightened by the mournful wail Mitchell occasionally interspersed with his instrumental work.

Guitarist L.C. Green came to Detroit in the late forties according to his one time partner, Woodrow Adams, who grew up with L.C. in Minter City, Mississippi. Green waxed seven songs in Detroit for Joe Von Battle, but six were leased out and only one appeared on the Von label. Both titles included here are versions of the first Sonny Boy Williamson's "Good Morning Little School Girl," but Green's repertoire was was larger and in fact has much in common with the recordings of the younger Clarksdale, Miss. singer, R.C. Smith, who recorded for Arhoolie and Bluesville in the early sixties. Smith's "Lonely Widow" is a virtual twin to Green's "The Sun Is Shining" and suggests a common influence since Green was already playing in Detroit when Smith began playing and the rarity of Green's recording probably precludes it as Smith's source. The identity of the harmonica player on the two included titles is in question, but Robert Richard has been suggested because he is known to have jammed with Green often. The platter mate of Green's obscure Von recording, "Going Down To The River," is the fascinating "Ramblin' Around Blues," the only known release by harmonica stylist Sam Kelly who is accompanied by guitar and second harmonica, probably Green and Richard respectively. Kelly blows really top notch harmonica with great originality and feeling and relies on loosely strung traditional verses for his lyrics which include a reference to a Memphis background.

Playboy and Rocky Fuller are both early pseudonyms for New Orleans born Iverson Minter, who later had minor success using the name Louisiana Red. The sides included here are his first and typically were recorded in Von Battle's basement. Minter's recordings from this period are exciting yet blatantly imitative, perhaps reflecting a young man's search for his own style. "Gonna Play My Guitar" and "Sugar Cane Highway" incorporate the early Muddy Waters band style with Playboy picking the familiar slide patterns supported by and unknown harmonica and piano. On the former title Playboy even warns Muddy of an upcoming Chicago confrontation with Muddy's woman as spoils for the victor. This coupling is particularly unusual as it was pressed in Hollywood, California as a vanity item on the aptly named Fuller label,and was distributed primarily from the artist's own car trunk. The Rocky Fuller titles were leased to a major company in hope of better distribution, but in spite of a strong performance, the pair never sold perhaps because they were too firmly in the Lightnin' Hopkins mold.

With ten releases to his credit, singer/guitarist Baby Boy Warren was one of the most prolific of Detroit bluesmen and he is therefore represented here in work from two different sessions. His 1953 "Hello Stranger," a version of the first Sonny Boy Williamson's "Mattie Mae Blues," seems to have been his signature piece as he recorded two other versions in addition to this one with an all star band including presumable Sonny Boy 2 on harp, Boogie Woogie Red on piano, Calvin Frazier on second guitar and Washboard Willie on washboard. The Sampson pressing, "Taxi Driver" and "Bad Lover Blues" was Baby Boy's last and certainly his rarest recordings, but finds him at the top of his form on two original compositions with fine lyrics and solid guitar work supported again by Boogie Woogie Red, but with Little George Jackson on guitar and Jimmy Tarrant on drums.

"Papa's Boogie," Eddie Burns' 1948 debut, is a harmonica/guitar duet recorded by Bernie Bessman and leased to the Holiday label which issued under the Slim Pickens pseudonym. Guitarist John T. Smith never recorded again, but Burns enjoyed a modestly successful musical career with a dozen records to his credit and a decade of weekend club gigs often with John Lee Hooker who waxed some of his own bester performances (again for Bessman) with Burn's harmonica in support.

Little is known about the other artists included in this anthology. Guitarist Henry Smith unfortunately made only two records, one of which is the fine coupling heard here with Eddie Burns on harp, Calvin Frazier on second guitar and Washboard Willie on washboard. The first Sonny Boy Williamson's 1940 ode to syphilis, "My Little Machine," was reworked into an even more blunt version in disciple Robert Henry's 1952 "Something's Wrong With My Loving Machine." The members of Henry's backup group on this session are presently unknown.

-Leroy Pierson

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jah Thomas- Dance Hall Stylee (1982)

I cannot take credit for the original vinyl rip of this fantastic record, nor the bragging rights of having found it in the bargain bin somewhere in the U.K. That honor belongs to a friend on a reggae forum so long ago that I can't even remember which forum it was, let alone which friend. To you: all respect is due. This is a killer and thanks much. You should download this (if for no other reason, of which there are many, [then]) for the great spacey a capella intros to most of the tracks, which come in handy for any DJ set or radio show. Example: "Rub-a-duh uh uh uh ub. You have fi play it at the club: UB! (uub uub ub ub ub ub)" or "Musical selection come to rock the nation. Rock the nation with a this a version," etc. (Can you call something a capella if it features dubbery?)...anyway... Jah Thomas is generally remembered more for his excellent production of other artists, however unlike most producers-cum-chatters (I'm looking at you, Kanye) he has a decent control of the mic and a wonderfully strong, mellow voice.

Jah Thomas is producing and Scientist is on the mix, so you know it's top shelf. This seems to be a second mix on Silver Camel, but there's ongoing debate about whether or not this is in fact the original. Either way, this is some prime rub-a-dub. Enjoy!


[Original Liner Notes]

Side 1
1. African thing
2. Love pon corner
3. Dance a fi cork
4. Seek & find
5. Love one another

Side 2
1. Part two
2. Gwine a school
3. Jah jah guidance
4. Mr. Barrister
5. Two in the family

Roots Radics Band
Bass: Flabba Holt, Lead: Sowell, Drums: Style Scott, Riddim: Bingy Bunny

Tracks laid at Channel One, mixed by Scientist at King Tubbys Studio, Jamaica
Produced by Jah Thomas
Voice and overdubs at Pathway Studios, London, by Silver Camel
Engineered by Gareth Jones
Arranged, edited and mixed by Silver Camel

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Trinity- At His Toasting Best (1978)

They call me Trinity cause I liquidate iniquity!

So Trinity (born Wade Brammer, 1954) has always been one of my favorite chatters. He's not as charismatic as Big Youth or as lyrically complex as I Roy, but he always brings it conscious and he's always nice on the mic. If you remain unconvinced simply check Yabby You Meets Trinity At Dub Station, one of the all-time greatest records out of Jamaica. Dreader than dread and heavier than lead.
I would love to post it here but you can buy it, which you should.

Trinity's "At His Toasting Best" is something of an anomaly in his career. He is credited as producer and arranger, which as far as I know is the only time he sat in the dub seat himself. It's also his only collaboration with a then 18-year-old Scientist, who is credited as Engineer. The deftness of the production, however, makes me think that perhaps it was Scientist who was really twisting the knobs on this one, or Trinity was an exceptionally quick study. The riddims run from Joe Gibbs and Yabby You, and though I'm not convinced that Mr. Brammer never toasted better, the whole thing is a good listen.

The sound quality on this isn't great. The record is in nice condition, but it's a 1982 US repress on Salsoul, and apparently someone over there was sleeping on the mix. I know it wasn't Overton.

Included is both sides of a Trinity 7 Inch from 1977, produced by Tubby. Let 'im tell you 'bout Internal Feelings.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Jandek- One Foot In The North (1991)

The world's first conceptual outsider artist or an eccentric isolate from Texas?

For an artist about whom virtually nothing is known, reams of paper and pixels have been devoted to the mysterious representative from Corwood Industries. Don't believe me? There is a wikipedia entry for each of Jandek's 53 albums; an honor not shared by, say, Eric Clapton. Jandek exists somewhere between the usually separate worlds of outsider art and brand marketing, tirelessly promoting himself through massive mailings of his self-produced albums to college radio stations in the 1980s and 90s while simultaneously constructing a musical and photographic portrait of an artist so singular, so vulnerable, and so odd as to defy description. In doing so he built up a cult following that adheres to the literal meaning of the term (an excerpt from a fan site describing the cover of this album: "[...]In the lower left is the corner of a piece of furniture (a table?) with a cup or candleholder sitting on it. It looks like he’s in dense fog, except he’s indoors. Actually, it might be just his shadow[...]"; it goes on and again there is an entry for each album).

It has been said that Jandek manages to fall within the traditions of "Blues" and American "Folk" or "Primitive," somehow without sounding anything like them, and that's as good a description as I can manage. Leap in with both feet and you won't be disappointed.

One Foot In The North