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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Worried Life Blues - Big Maceo Merriweather

Big Maceo Merriweather (March 31, 1905 – February 23, 1953) was an American Chicago blues pianist and singer, active in Chicago in the 1940s.
Born Major Merriweather (or Merewether) in Atlanta, Georgia, United States, he was a self-taught pianist. In the 1920s he moved to Detroit, Michigan and began playing parties and clubs. In 1941, a desire to record led him to Chicago where he met and befriended Tampa Red. Red introduced him to Lester Melrose of Bluebird Records, who signed him to a recording contract.

His first record was "Worried Life Blues" (1941), which promptly became a blues hit and remained his signature piece. Other classic piano blues recordings such as "Chicago Breakdown", "Texas Stomp", and "Detroit Jump" followed. His piano style developed from players like Leroy Carr and Roosevelt Sykes, as well as from the Boogie-woogie style of Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons. He in turn influenced other musicians like Henry Gray, who credits Merriweather to helping him launch his career as a blues pianist.

His style had an impact on practically every post World War II blues pianist of note. His most famous song, "Worried Life Blues" is a staple of the blues repertoire, with artists such as Eric Clapton featuring it regularly in concert. "Worried Life Blues" was in the first batch of songs inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame "Classic Blues Recordings - Singles or Albums Tracks" alongside "Stormy Monday," 'Sweet Home Chicago," "Dust My Broom," and "Hellhound On My Trail."

His career was cut short in 1946 by a stroke. Poor health and a lifetime of heavy drinking eventually led to a fatal heart attack. He died on February 23, 1953 in Chicago, and was interred at the Detroit Memorial Cemetery in Warren, Michigan.

His sparse recordings for Bluebird were released in a double album set as Chicago Breakdown, in 1975. They have since been reissued on a variety of labels.

In 2002 he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

On May 3, 2008 the White Lake Blues Festival took place at the Howmet Playhouse Theater in Whitehall, Michigan. The event was organized by executive producer, Steve Salter, of the nonprofit organization Killer Blues to raise monies to honor Merriweather's unmarked grave with a headstone. The concert was a success, and a headstone was placed in June, 2008.
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