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


donc said...

Thanks for the Nighthawk releases.
Some of the best blues comps. to have ever been released.

One small problem. Side two of Slickers isn't happening.


Botched Surgery said...

Hey Don,
My bad- botched the script. Link is correct now. Look for more Nighthawk releases this week, followed by some tasty international weirdness.

Thanks for letting me know!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the good and rare album. Have you V. A.: Various Chicago Slickers Vol. 2 1948-55?


Botched Surgery said...

Indeed I do Nonny. I promise to post this in the next week.

Thanks for the reminder,

Anonymous said...

Thanks again ! Great blues !