Blues With a Feeling: The Little Walter Story, by Tony Glover, Scott Dirks & Ward Gaines
Three harmonica players from different parts of the country - Glover from Minnesota, Dirks from Chicago, and Gaines from Washington, D.C. - joined forces to pay tribute to their idol in Blues With a Feeling: The Little Walter Story, published by Routledge in 2002. Walter was the most influential harmonica player in Blues history, a member of Muddy Waters' band in Chicago before venturing out on his own in the early 1950s to record hits such as "Juke", "Off the Wall" and "My Babe". His approach changed and defined the course and the role of Blues harmonica in the early era of electronic amplification, in much the same way as T-Bone Walker and B.B. King did with the electric guitar. Harmonica players have been striving to emulate or imitate him ever since. While his music is well known, his personal story was quite shadowy until the publication of this revealing and well-researched biography, which draws on interviews with Walter's fellow musicians, family members, fans, and associates.
Classics of Blues Recordings - Albums
Down and Out Blues -- Sonny Boy Williamson (No. 2) (Checker, 1960)
Down and Out Blues was the first LP by Sonny Boy Williamson (No. 2). Chess Records subsidiary label, Checker, released this collection of 1955-58 singles in 1960. Harmonica maestro Williamson (Alex 'Rice' Miller, 1912-1965) recorded some of his strongest and most poetic songs on these Chicago sessions, accompanied by such stellar sidemen as Muddy Waters, Robert Lockwood Jr., Jimmy Rogers, Willie Dixon, Otis Spann, Luther Tucker, and Fred Below. Although Williamson was known as a dapper dresser, Chess chose to illustrate the down-and-out Blues theme with a cover photo of a nameless, ragged, barefooted derelict. Noted Chicago author Studs Terkel wrote the liner notes. Williamson was elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980, the first year of the awards.
Angola Prisoners' Blues -- Robert Pete Williams & others (Louisiana Folklore Society, 1959/Arhoolie
Folklorist Dr. Harry Oster used the tool room of the Louisiana state penitentiary at Angola to record Angola Prisoners' Blues in 1959. Of the three guitar-playing convicts featured on this LP -- Robert "Guitar" Welch, Matthew "Hogman" Maxey, and Robert Pete Williams -- it was Welch (born in Memphis in 1896) who was hailed by the prison population as "King of the Blues". But Robert Pete Williams, who was serving time for murder, was the only one to go on to greater fame as one of the most intriguing figures of the 1960s Folk Blues revival. These recordings (Williams' first) actually helped him earn a parole and subsequent pardon through the efforts of Oster and his associate Richard Allen. Oster originally released Angola Prisoners' Blues on the Louisiana Folklore Society label, which evolved into Folk-Lyric Records. A reissue on Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie label in 1970 brought the LP to more widespread attention in the Blues world, and Williams continued to record until his death in 1980. A CD version on Arhoolie added 13 tracks by several different performers to the original LP.
Driving Wheel -- Little Jr. Parker (Duke, 1962)
Driving Wheel was Little Jr. Parker's first full-length LP, released on the Houston-based Duke label at the height of Parker's popularity in 1962, when he was ranked in the top echelon of blues artists, along with B.B. King, Ray Charles, and Parker's former valet Bobby 'Blue' Bland, in terms of record sales and radio airplay. (Parker and Bland had shared an earlier LP, Blues Consolidated.) The Driving Wheel album featured Parker's influential renditions of the Blues classics 'Driving Wheel,' 'Yonder's Wall,' 'Tin Pan Alley,' and 'I Need Love So Bad,' along with other recent hits such as 'Annie Get Your Yo-Yo' and 'How Long Can This Go On." On the original release of this LP, Parker (1932-1971) posed on the cover in front of his modern ranch-style home in Houston with his new white Cadillac. Parker was elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001.
Classics of Blues Recordings - Singles or Album Tracks
Black Angel Blues -- Robert Nighthawk (The Nighthawks) (Aristocrat, 1949)
Slide guitar maestro Robert Nighthawk took his cues from an earlier slide wizard, Tampa Red, when he recorded the powerfully emotive "Black Angel Blues" and its flip side, "Annie Lee Blues," for Aristocrat Records in 1949. Tampa Red had recorded both tunes some years earlier, although the original version of "Black Angel" was recorded by Lucille Bogan in 1930, credited only to a writer named Smith. B.B. King would later re-popularize the number as "Sweet Little Angel." The Aristocrat recording was released under the name The Nighthawks, who were Robert "Nighthawk" McCollum, pianist Ernest Lane, and, in one of his first appearances as a sideman for the Aristocrat/Chess labels, bassist Willie Dixon. Fellow Aristocrat/Chess artist Muddy Waters procured the recording opportunity for his friend Nighthawk, who had performed at Waters' first wedding in Mississippi. Nighthawk (1909-1967) was elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in 1983.
Hide Away (Hideaway) -- Freddie (Freddy) King (Federal, 1961)
Probably the most-played set-closing instrumental in the repertoires of blues bands around the country for more than 50 years has been the Freddy King smash "Hide Away," a Top 10 R&B hit on the Federal label in 1961. The 45, recorded in Cincinnati on August 26, 1960, also reached No. 29 on the Billboard Pop charts and its success led Chicago singer-guitarist Freddy King to record many more instrumentals during the early 1960s. The propulsive piece was named after Mel's Hide Away Lounge on Chicago's West Side and was credited to King and producer-pianist Sonny Thompson, although King himself acknowledged that he assembled "Hide Away" (often subsequently spelled "Hideaway") from music he'd heard by Hound Dog Taylor, Robert Lockwood Jr., and Jimmy McCracklin. The full LP Hide Away was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1987, while King (1934-1976) was elected in 1982.
Death Letter -- Son House (Columbia album track, 1965)
"Death Letter," the mournful masterpiece from Delta Blues master Son House's landmark Columbia LP Father of the Folk Blues, represents blues at its deepest level. House's paean to a departed lover was recorded in Boston in April of 1965, not long after the rejuvenation of House's career during the folk blues revival. House was 63 at the time. This selection was released only as an album track and not as a single. The Blues Hall of Fame inducted the Father of the Folk Blues LP in the Classics of Blues Recording: Albums category in 1992. House (1902-1988) was in the inaugural group of artists elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.
Arthur N. 'Art' Rupe has left an indelible mark on American music thanks to his recordings of Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Percy Mayfield, Guitar Slim, Roy Milton, Joe Liggins, the Soul Stirrers, and many other Blues, R&B, and Gospel performers on the Specialty label. Rupe launched Specialty in Los Angeles in 1946 after partnering in the Atlas label in 1944 and starting the Juke Box label in 1945. Specialty remained in operation under Rupe's ownership until 1990 when it was sold to Fantasy Records. The roster of Specialty hits includes Guitar Slim's 'The Things That I Used to Do,' Percy Mayfield's 'Please Send Me Someone to Love,' Lloyd Price's 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy,' and all of Little Richard's wild Rock 'n' Roll hits of the 1950s (many of them recorded in New Orleans). Rupe was born Arthur Goldberg in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, on September 5, 1917, and grew up hearing black music in a racially mixed environment near Pittsburgh. After attending UCLA and deciding to get into the entertainment business in California, he changed his name to Rupe. A studious entrepreneur, Rupe purchased stacks of records from ghetto shops to systematically analyze the records that were selling to black buyers and concluded that the secret ingredient was 'a big band sound, expressed in a churchy way.' In recent years, through his Arthur N. Rupe Foundation, he has endowed academic programs, scholarships, and various community institutions.
Ahmet Ertegun, a Turkish immigrant with a love for African-American music, co-founded one of America's premier record companies, Atlantic Records, in 1948. Atlantic's earliest success was with Blues and R&B artists such as Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner, the Clovers, and Ray Charles; in later years the label expanded its scope and distribution to include Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin, John Coltrane, and many others, most recently acts such as Kid Rock, Gnarls Barkley, and Missy Elliott. Ertegun, who was born in Istanbul on July 31, 1923, and his brother Nesuhi moved to Washington, D.C., in 1935 with their father, who had been appointed the Turkish ambassador to the United States. The brothers built a collection of 25,000 records and soon got into the record business for themselves. Ahmet joined forces with Herb Abramson to form Atlantic and was later joined by Nesuhi and Jerry Wexler. Under the name Nugetre (Ertegun spelled backwards), he wrote songs for Big Joe Turner ('Chains of Love'), Ray Charles ('Mess Around'), and others. Ertegun remained an active executive in the business even after Atlantic ended up under the corporate wings of the WEA conglomerate. He was attending a Rolling Stones concert in New York when he suffered a head injury from a backstage fall on October 29, 2006. He died on December 14 and was buried in Turkey alongside his brother and father.
Dave Bartholomew has been a driving creative force in the history of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues, a man whose name may not be well known to the general public, but whose work as a songwriter, bandleader, producer, and arranger was crucial to the success of Fats Domino and many others. Bartholomew, a trumpeter who still performs in New Orleans, was born in Edgard, Louisiana, on Dec. 24, 1918. Although he recorded as a singer or featured instrumentalist for the DeLuxe, Imperial, and King labels among others, as far back as 1947, he had only one jukebox hit, 'Country Boy,' in 1950. His work in the studio however, resulted in a parade of hits by Domino, Lloyd Price, Shirley & Lee, Smiley Lewis, Earl King, and others. Among Bartholomew's songwriting credits, on his own or as co-composer, are 'Walking to New Orleans,' 'Blue Monday,' 'My Ding A Ling,' 'I Hear You Knocking,' 'I'm Walkin',' 'Let the Four Winds Blow,' and hundreds more.
One of the most colorful characters to emerge from the psychedelic 1960s was Dr. John the Night Tripper. The mastermind behind the mystical voodoo funk of the 1968 album Gris Gris was Malcolm John "Mac" Rebennack, Jr., who up until that point had spent his recording career mostly as a sideman in New Orleans (where he was born on November 21, 1940) and Los Angeles. When the mist cleared along with the glitz and glitter, the world began to recognize Dr. John as a New Orleans rhythm & blues icon, carrying on the traditions of Crescent City legends like Professor Longhair, Smiley Lewis, and Huey 'Piano' Smith. He has recorded more than 30 albums on his own while also playing piano or organ on sessions by blues, rock, soul, and jazz performers such as B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Luther Allison, Big Joe Turner, Johnny Copeland, Mike Bloomfield, Duke Robillard, Tab Benoit, Johnny Adams, Charles Brown, James Cotton, Johnny Winter, Ringo Starr, Bill Wyman, Aretha Franklin, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
Guitar Slim (Eddie Jones)
Eddie "Guitar Slim" Jones helped drive the electric guitar to new levels of power and intensity during his brief career in the 1950s. Jones was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, on December 10, 1926, according to his Specialty Records bio but earlier documents indicate his birth may have come two or three years in a rural area somewhere near Greenwood. After some early experience in Hollandale, Mississippi, as a singer and dancer, Jones developed a blasting guitar attack, which, combined with his gospel-inflected vocals, powered his rise to fame in New Orleans. There he recorded the blues classic "The Things That I Used to Do'" for Specialty in 1953. The pianist on that record, which was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in the Classics of Blues Recording category in 1984, was Ray Charles. Guitar Slim was a flamboyant showman who sometimes appeared with his hair and shoes dyed to match his vibrantly colored suits. He would stroll the audience and walk outside playing guitar using a cord of 100 feet or more. He was a major influence on Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Earl King, Chick Willis, Lonnie Brooks, and many others. Jones died of pneumonia during a trip to New York City on February 7, 1959.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was one of the foremost African-American celebrities of the 1940s and early 1950s, an exhilarating performer with an impressive fingerpicking guitar style. She sang gospel music for most of her career, but crossed over into jazz, blues, and rhythm & blues. Her 1945 recording of "Strange Things Happening Every Day" has even been called an early example of rock 'n' roll. She toured or recorded with Louis Jordan, Count Basie, Lucky Millinder, and Sammy Price among others, and collaborated with Marie Knight to form one of the top gospel acts of the early post-World War II era. Some members of the religious community met her forays into secular music with outrage. Tharpe was born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, on March 20, 1915, and died in Philadelphia on October 9, 1973. Among those who have cited her as an influence are Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Etta James, Little Richard, and Isaac Hayes. Her biography, Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, by Gayle Wald, was published by Beacon Press.