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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!


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Showing posts with label Masters of Country Blues. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Masters of Country Blues. Show all posts

Friday, October 14, 2011

Killin' Floor - JAMES "SON" THOMAS


James "Son" Thomas (1926-1993)was one of the great Delta blues musicians, as well as a self-taught sculptor. Born in Eden, Mississippi, he was taught to play guitar by his uncle and grandfather, but began to play seriously only after reaching the age of fifty. Soon afterward, Thomas' bottle-neck blues style was enthusiastically received all over the world.

Thomas worked for a while as a grave digger and this profession most certainly stimulated his creation of clay caskets and skulls with human teeth. He said he made his first skull as a little boy to scare his grandfather who was afraid of ghosts.

Thomas' music and sculpture were first documented by William Ferris, a folklorist and Director for the Study of Southern Culture in Oxford, Mississippi. In 1981, Thomas' work was included in the "Black Folk Art" show at the Corcoran in Washington, D.C.
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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Red River Blues - Jesse Fuller


Jesse Fuller (March 12, 1896 — January 29, 1976) was an American one-man band musician, best known for his song "San Francisco Bay Blues". His nickname was "Lone Cat."
Starting locally, in clubs and bars in San Francisco and across the bay in Oakland and Berkeley, Fuller became more widely known when he performed on television in both the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and in 1958 his recording career started with his first album on the Good Time Jazz record label. Fuller's instruments included 12-string guitar, harmonica, kazoo, cymbal (high-hat) and fotdella, several of which could be played simultaneously, particularly with the use of a head-piece to hold the harmonica and kazoo, often at the same time.
No discussion of Fuller would be complete without devoting some attention to the fotdella. This is an instrument entirely of Fuller's creation and construction. Keeping in mind that he was a one-man band, the problem was how to supply a more substantial accompaniment than the typical high-hat (cymbal) or bass drum used by street musicians. Fuller's stroke of genius, which he said came to him as he was lying in bed, was this fotdella. It was a foot-operated percussion bass, consisting of a large upright wood box, shaped like the top of a double bass. Attached to a short neck at the top of this box were six bass strings, stretched over the body. And finally, there was the means to play those strings: six foot pedals, each connected to a padded hammer which struck the string, in a homemade wooden contraption.

The six notes of the fotdella allowed him to play a bass line in several keys, though he occasionally would play without it if a song exceeded its limited range.

The name was coined by his wife, who took to calling the instrument a "foot-diller" (as in a "killer-diller" instrument played with the foot), which was shortened to fotdella.

Fuller died in January 1976 in Oakland, California from heart disease. He was 79 years of age. He was interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland.
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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Jack of Spades - Mance Lipscomb


Mance Lipscomb (April 9, 1895 – January 30, 1976) was an influential blues singer, guitarist and songster. Born Beau De Glen Lipscomb near Navasota, Texas, he as a youth took the name of 'Mance' from a friend of his oldest brother Charlie (Mance short for emancipation).

Lipscomb was born April 9, 1895 to an ex-slave father from Alabama and a half Native American (Choctaw) mother. Lipscomb spent most of his life working as a tenant farmer in Texas and was "discovered" and recorded by Mack McCormick and Chris Strachwitz in 1960 during the country blues revival. He released many albums of blues, ragtime, Tin Pan Alley and folk music (most of them on Strachwitz' Arhoolie label[1]), singing and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. He had a fine finger-picking guitar technique, and an expressive voice well suited to his material. Lipscomb often honed his skills by playing in nearby Brenham, Texas, with a blind musician, Sam Porter Norman. His debut release, Texas Songster (1960) revealed how broad his repertoire was. and further sets for Arhoolie made that point in greater detail. Lipscomb happily performed old songs like "Sugar Babe," the first song he ever learned, to pop numbers like "Shine On, Harvest Moon" and "It's a Long Way to Tipperary".

Trouble in Mind was recorded in 1961, and released on a major label, Reprise. In May 1963, Lipscombe appeared at the first Monterey Folk Festival in California. Also on the bill were Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul & Mary and The Weavers.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not record in the early blues era, but his life is well documented thanks to his autobiography, I Say Me for a Parable: The Oral Autobiography of Mance Lipscomb, Texas Bluesman, narrated to Glen Alyn, which was published posthumously, and also a short 1971 documentary by Les Blank, A Well Spent Life.

He died in his hometown of Navasota in 1976, two years after suffering a stroke.
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Jelly Roll Blues = Bukka White



Born Booker T. Washington White between Aberdeen and Houston, Mississippi, he gave his cousin B.B. King, a Stella guitar, King's first guitar. White himself is remembered as a player of National steel guitars. He also played, but was less adept at, the piano.

White started his career playing the fiddle at square dances. He claims to have met Charlie Patton early on, although some doubt has been cast upon this; Regardless, Patton was a large influence on White. White typically played slide guitar, in an open tuning. He was one of the few, along with Skip James, to use a crossnote tuning in E minor, which he may have learned, as James did, from Henry Stuckey.

He first recorded for the Victor Records label in 1930. His recordings for Victor, like those of many other bluesmen, fluctuated between country blues and gospel numbers. His gospel songs were done in the style of Blind Willie Johnson, with a female singer accentuating the last phrase of each line.

Nine years later, while serving time for assault, he recorded for folklorist John Lomax. The few songs he recorded around this time became his most well-known: "Shake 'Em On Down," and "Po' Boy."

Bob Dylan covered his song "Fixin' to Die Blues", which aided a "rediscovery" of White in 1963 by guitarist John Fahey and ED Denson, which propelled him onto the folk revival scene of the 1960s. White had recorded the song simply because his other songs had not particularly impressed the Victor record producer. It was a studio composition of which White had thought little until it re-emerged thirty years later.

White was at one time managed by the experienced blues manager, Arne Brogger. Fahey and Denson found White easily enough: Fahey wrote a letter to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi." Fahey had assumed, given White's song, "Aberdeen, Mississippi", that White still lived there, or nearby. The postcard was forwarded to Memphis, Tennessee, where White worked in a tank factory. Fahey and Denson soon travelled to meet White, and White and Fahey remained friends through the remainder of White's life. He recorded a new album for Denson and Fahey's Takoma Records, whilst Denson became his manager.

White was, later in life, also friends with fellow musician, Furry Lewis. The two recorded, mostly in Lewis' Memphis apartment, an album together, Furry Lewis, Bukka White & Friends: Party! At Home.
"Parchman Farm Blues" is about the Mississippi State Penitentiary

One of his most famous songs, "Parchman Farm Blues", about the Mississippi State Penitentiary (also known as Parchman Farm) in Sunflower County, Mississippi, was released on Harry Smith's fourth volume of the Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 4. The song was covered by The Traits/aka Roy Head and the Traits with Johnny Winter in the late 1960s. His 1937 version of the oft-recorded song, "Shake 'Em On Down," is considered definitive, and became a hit while White was serving time in Parchman.

White died in February 1977 from cancer, at the age of 67, in Memphis, Tennessee.[1][8] In 1990 he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame (along with Blind Blake and Lonnie Johnson).
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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hey Hey - Big Bill Broonzy


Big Bill Broonzy (26 June 1898 – 15 August 1958) was a prolific American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist. His career began in the 1920s when he played country blues to mostly black audiences. Through the ‘30s and ‘40s he successfully navigated a transition in style to a more urban blues sound popular with white audiences. In the 1950s a return to his traditional folk-blues roots made him one of the leading figures of the emerging American folk music revival and an international star. His long and varied career marks him as one of the key figures in the development of blues music in the 20th century.

Broonzy copyrighted more than 300 songs during his lifetime, including both adaptations of traditional folk songs and original blues songs. As a blues composer, he was unique in that his compositions reflected the many vantage points of his rural-to-urban experiences.
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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Washington Blues - Elizabeth Cotten


Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten (January 5, 1895 – June 29, 1987) was an American blues and folk musician, singer, and songwriter.

A self-taught left-handed guitarist, Cotten developed her own original style. Her approach involved using a right-handed guitar (usually in standard tuning), not re-strung for left-handed playing, essentially, holding a right-handed guitar upside down. This position required her to play the bass lines with her fingers and the melody with her thumb. Her signature alternating bass style has become known as "Cotten picking".
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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gulfport Boogie - Roosevelt Sykes


Roosevelt Sykes (January 31, 1906 – July 17, 1983) was an American blues musician also known as "The Honeydripper". He was a successful and prolific cigar-chomping blues piano player whose rollicking thundering boogie was highly influential.
Born in Elmar, Arkansas, Sykes grew up near Helena but at age 15, went on the road playing piano with a barrelhouse style of blues. Like many bluesmen of his time, he travelled around playing to all-male audiences in sawmill, turpentine and levee camps along the Mississippi River, gathering a repertoire of raw, sexually explicit material. His wanderings eventually brought him to St. Louis, Missouri, where he met St. Louis Jimmy Oden.

In 1929 he was spotted by a talent scout and sent to New York to record for Okeh Records. His first release was "'44' Blues" which became a blues standard and his trademark. He quickly began recording for multiple labels under various names including 'Easy Papa Johnson', 'Dobby Bragg' and 'Willie Kelly'. After he and Oden moved to Chicago he found his first period of fame when he signed with Decca Records in 1934. In 1943, he signed with Bluebird Records and recorded with 'The Honeydrippers'.

In Chicago, Sykes began to display an increasing urbanity in his lyric-writing, using an 8-bar blues pop gospel structure instead of the traditional 12-bar blues. However, despite the growing urbanity of his outlook, he gradually became less competitive in the post-World War II music scene. After his RCA Victor contract expired, he continued to record for smaller labels, such as United, until his opportunities ran out in the mid 1950s

Roosevelt left Chicago in 1954 for New Orleans as electric blues was taking over the Chicago blues clubs. When he returned to recording in the 1960s it was for labels such as Delmark, Bluesville, Storyville and Folkways that were documenting the quickly passing blues history. He lived out his final years in New Orleans, where he died from a heart attack on July 17, 1983.
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Louise - Mississippi Fred Mc Dowell

Fred McDowell (January 12, 1904 – July 3, 1972) known by his stage name; Mississippi Fred McDowell, was a blues singer and guitar player in the North Mississippi style.McDowell was born in Rossville, Tennessee, near Memphis. His parents, who were farmers, died when McDowell was a youth. He started playing guitar at the age of 14 and played at dances around Rossville. Wanting a change from plowing fields, he moved to Memphis in 1926 where he started to work in the Buck-Eye feed mill where they processed cotton into oil and other products.He also had a number of other jobs and played music for tips. Later in 1928 he moved south into Mississippi to pick cotton. He settled in Como, Mississippi, about 40 miles south of Memphis, in 1940 or 1941, and worked steadily as a farmer, continuing to perform music at dances and picnics. Initially he played slide guitar using a pocket knife and then a slide made from a beef rib bone, later switching to a glass slide for its clearer sound. He played with the slide on his ring finger.

While commonly lumped together with Delta Blues singers, McDowell
actually may be considered the first of the bluesmen from the 'North Mississippi' region - parallel to, but somewhat east of the Delta region - to achieve widespread recognition for his work. A version of the state's signature musical form somewhat closer in structure to its African roots (often eschewing the chord change for the hypnotic effect of the droning, single chord vamp), the North Mississippi style (or at least its aesthetic) may be heard to have been carried on in the music of such figures as Junior Kimbrough and R. L. Burnside, while serving as the original impetus behind creation of the Fat Possum record label out of Oxford, Mississippi.[citation needed]

The 1950s brought a rising interest in blues music and folk music in the United States and McDowell was brought to wider public attention, beginning when he was discovered and recorded in 1959 by Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins.McDowell's records were popular, and he performed often at festivals and clubs.McDowell continued to perform blues in the North Mississippi blues style much as he had for decades, but he sometimes performed on electric guitar rather than acoustic guitar. While he famously declared "I do not play no rock and roll," McDowell was not averse to associating with many younger rock musicians: He coached Bonnie Raitt on slide guitar technique, and was reportedly flattered by The Rolling Stones' rather straightforward, authentic version of his "You Gotta Move" on their 1971 Sticky Fingers album.

McDowell's 1969 album I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll was his first featuring electric guitar. It features parts of an interview in which he discusses the origins of the blues and the nature of love. (This interview was sampled and mixed into a song, also titled "I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll" by Dangerman in 1999.) McDowell's final album, Live in New York (Oblivion Records), was a concert performance from November 1971 at the Village Gaslight (aka The Gaslight Cafe), Greenwich Village, New York.

McDowell died of cancer in 1972, aged 68, and was buried at Hammond Hill Baptist Church, between Como and Senatobia, Mississippi. On August 6, 1993 a memorial was placed on his grave site by the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund. The ceremony was presided over by Dick Waterman, and the memorial with McDowell's portrait upon it was paid for by Bonnie Raitt. The memorial stone was a replacement for an inaccurate and damaged marker (McDowell's name was misspelled) and the original stone was subsequently donated by McDowell's family to the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Low Down Dirty Shame


Joseph Lee Williams (October 16, 1903 – December 17, 1982), billed throughout his career as Big Joe Williams, was an American Delta blues guitarist, singer and songwriter, notable for the distinctive sound of his nine-string guitar. Performing over four decades, he recorded such songs as "Baby Please Don't Go", "Crawlin' King Snake" and "Peach Orchard Mama" for a variety of record labels, including Bluebird, Delmark, Okeh, Prestige and Vocalion. Williams was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame on October 4, 1992.

Blues historian Barry Lee Pearson (Sounds Good to Me: The Bluesman's Story, Virginia Piedmont Blues) attempted to document the gritty intensity of the Big Joe persona in this description:

When I saw him playing at Mike Bloomfield's "blues night" at the Fickle Pickle, Williams was playing an electric nine-string guitar through a small ramshackle amp with a pie plate nailed to it and a beer can dangling against that. When he played, everything rattled but Big Joe himself. The total effect of this incredible apparatus produced the most buzzing, sizzling, African-sounding music I have ever heard.
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Monday, May 2, 2011

Aberdeen Mississippi Blues - Booker White


Born Booker T. Washington White between Aberdeen and Houston, Mississippi, he gave his cousin B.B. King, a Stella guitar, King's first guitar. White himself is remembered as a player of National steel guitars. He also played, but was less adept at, the piano.

White started his career playing the fiddle at square dances. He claims to have met Charlie Patton early on, although some doubt has been cast upon this; Regardless, Patton was a large influence on White. White typically played slide guitar, in an open tuning. He was one of the few, along with Skip James, to use a crossnote tuning in E minor, which he may have learned, as James did, from Henry Stuckey.

He first recorded for the Victor Records label in 1930. His recordings for Victor, like those of many other bluesmen, fluctuated between country blues and gospel numbers. His gospel songs were done in the style of Blind Willie Johnson, with a female singer accentuating the last phrase of each line.

Nine years later, while serving time for assault, he recorded for folklorist John Lomax. The few songs he recorded around this time became his most well-known: "Shake 'Em On Down," and "Po' Boy."

Bob Dylan covered his song "Fixin' to Die Blues", which aided a "rediscovery" of White in 1963 by guitarist John Fahey and ED Denson, which propelled him onto the folk revival scene of the 1960s. White had recorded the song simply because his other songs had not particularly impressed the Victor record producer. It was a studio composition of which White had thought little until it re-emerged thirty years later.

White was at one time managed by the experienced blues manager, Arne Brogger. Fahey and Denson found White easily enough: Fahey wrote a letter to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi." Fahey had assumed, given White's song, "Aberdeen, Mississippi", that White still lived there, or nearby. The postcard was forwarded to Memphis, Tennessee, where White worked in a tank factory. Fahey and Denson soon travelled to meet White, and White and Fahey remained friends through the remainder of White's life. He recorded a new album for Denson and Fahey's Takoma Records, whilst Denson became his manager.

White was, later in life, also friends with fellow musician, Furry Lewis. The two recorded, mostly in Lewis' Memphis apartment, an album together, Furry Lewis, Bukka White & Friends: Party! At Home.
"Parchman Farm Blues" is about the Mississippi State Penitentiary

One of his most famous songs, "Parchman Farm Blues", about the Mississippi State Penitentiary (also known as Parchman Farm) in Sunflower County, Mississippi, was released on Harry Smith's fourth volume of the Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 4. The song was covered by The Traits/aka Roy Head and the Traits with Johnny Winter in the late 1960s. His 1937 version of the oft-recorded song, "Shake 'Em On Down," is considered definitive, and became a hit while White was serving time in Parchman.

White died in February 1977 from cancer, at the age of 67, in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1990 he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame (along with Blind Blake and Lonnie Johnson).
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Walk On


If you watched the movie "the Jerk" and wondered who the musicians were when all the family was sitting around singing ... that Was Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Here's a short little song by them that shows their ongoing talents at their instruments in the traditional blues style.
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Furry's Blues - Furry Lewis



I saw this Leon Russell special on PBS may years ago and Furry lewis was featured on it. He demonstrates some of that famous "John Lee Hooker" timing for his singing.

Walter E. Lewis was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, but his family moved to Memphis when he was aged seven. Lewis acquired the nickname "Furry" from childhood playmates. By 1908, he was playing solo for parties, in taverns, and on the street. He also was invited to play several dates with W. C. Handy's Orchestra.

His travels exposed him to a wide variety of performers including Bessie Smith, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Alger "Texas" Alexander. Like his contemporary Frank Stokes, he tired of the road and took a permanent job in 1922. His position as a street sweeper for the City of Memphis, a job he would hold until his retirement in 1966, allowed him to remain active in the Memphis music scene.

In 1927, Lewis cut his first records in Chicago for the Vocalion label. A year later he recorded for the Victor label at the Memphis Auditorium in a session with the Memphis Jug Band, Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes, and others. He again recorded for Vocalion in Memphis in 1929. The tracks were mostly blues but included two-part versions of "Casey Jones" and "John Henry". He sometimes fingerpicked, sometimes played with a slide. He recorded many successful records in the late 1920s including "Kassie Jones", "Billy Lyons & Stack-O-Lee" and "Judge Harsh Blues" (later called "Good Morning Judge").

In 1969, Lewis was recorded by the record producer, Terry Manning, at home in Lewis' Beale Street apartment. These recordings were released in Europe at the time by Barclay Records, and then again in the early 1990s by Lucky Seven Records in the United States, and again in 2006 by Universal. Joni Mitchell's song, "Furry Sings the Blues", (on her Hejira album) is about Lewis and the Memphis music she experienced in the early 1970s. Lewis despised the Mitchell song and demanded she pay him royalties.

In 1972 he was the featured performer in the Memphis Blues Caravan, which included Bukka White, Sleepy John Estes, Clarence Nelson, Hammy Nixon, Memphis Piano Red, Sam Chatmon, and Mose Vinson.

Before he died, Lewis opened twice for The Rolling Stones, played on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show, and had a part in a Burt Reynolds movie, W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), and had a profile in Playboy magazine.

Lewis began to lose his eyesight because of cataracts in his final years. He contracted pneumonia in 1981, which led to his death from heart failure on 14 September of that year, at the age of 88.[5] He is buried in the Hollywood Cemetery in South Memphis, where his grave bears two headstones, the second purchased by fans.
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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hobo Blues - John Lee Hooker


This is the great John Lee Hooker. Hooker has always been one of my favorite blues singers and guitar players. The main reason is because he sings it with no polish and no pretense. If you watch him try to play with a band, they try to squeeze him into 8 bars or 12 bars. John Lee plays to his own time. The band always has to adapt to his shortening of the "traditional" phasing. His voice is humble and cutting and honest. It's refreshing. It's a shame that he had to be put with so many current day blues players to get his due. I'm glad that he did. But people who saw only that or heard only that style of Hooker, never understood where he was coming from. This is the real deal.

Enjoy

Oh yeah..by the way... don't have to have a fancy guitar to play the blues...looks like a Kay copy he's got there just adding to his persona. He's posing with a Les Paul in the photo... but I really only saw him with thin hollow body guitars.
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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Goin Down Slow


This is one of the unsung great blues players. He never had the notoriety of Muddy or BB or Freddy or Albert. But Lightnin was the real deal. It's my pleasure to put him up here on the board today for all to enjoy.
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Monday, April 11, 2011

Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning

One of the great fingerstyle players of the old blues. It's great to have some of these old videos as crude as they may be.


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Sunday, April 10, 2011

What are the blues? - Son House


The blues is a way of life. The blues is an outlet for emotion. The blues is experiencing someones life ... the turmoil... the strife... actual feelings. But who knows why, it makes you smile. It's happiness, it's sorrow, its a lot of things... it's the expression of emotion in one note of a song or the story that is told that just gets you. It isn't always fast, it isn't always slow it doesn't always swing. I'm just glad that it is. This is a good intro to the blues... can't think of a better place to start.
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