This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is album retro-review number 167 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.
Chicago blues might just be the most popular form of blues in our contemporary world, but in fact there were two distinct forms. This week I have pulled a vinyl LP from my crate that claims to have the best of those two forms.
It is an album of various artists and the album is titled – On The Road Again [An Anthology Of Chicago Blues 1947 – 1954].
Released on vinyl in 1971, and re-released in 1972 with a variation in the track listing, it was released on the Muskadine label label and it has the identifying code of No. 100.
This is the original 1971 version of the album and has 15 tracks.
1 Floyd Jones – On The Road Again
02 Snooky And Moody – Keep What You Got
03 Delta Joe – Roll Tumble And Slip
04 Little Walter Trio – Bad Acting Woman
05 Little Walter – I Just Keep Lovin’ Her
06 Little Walter Trio – Moonshine Blues
07 Baby Face Leroy Trio – Red Headed Woman
08 Othum Brown – Ora Nelle Blues
01 Johnny Shines – Evening Sun
02 Johnny Shines – Brutal Hearted Woman
03 John Brim Trio – Humming Blues
04 John Brim Trio – Trouble In The Morning
05 J.b. & His Hawks – Lovin’ You
06 J.b. & His Hawks – Pet Cream Man
07 J.b. & His Hawks – Now She’s Gone
There is little or no debate amongst fans of the blues, that after the traditional delta-blues style of playing, the most most successful and most enjoyable is that which came out of the post WWII Chicago.
Within the “Chicago Style” of blues there are two distinct forms.
The first is that which came from those early electrified/amplified blues, nascent even, from the immediate post war years through to the mid to late 1950’s.
The other is that which we typically talk about as the Chicago blues style of the ’60s which was far more polished.
This form was also more rigidly structured and really can be thought of as electrified blues that had matured.
That period gave forth many wonderful recordings, however, there is a sense of excitement and presence in the post WWII/1950’s early recordings.
It is a period which really defined the blues of the city, the urbane blues which ended had being polished almost out of existence by the late 1960’s.
The nine artists on this album, ten if you count Little Walter the soloist and the Little Walter Trio as two separate acts.
That trio consisted of Little Walter Jacobs, with Muddy Waters (guitar) and Baby Face Leroy Foster (
All the artists on this album have similar rural backgrounds and all moved into Chicago and its environs just prior to and during, the war years.
Many of the tracks, while electrified, carry that distinct rural quality and are best exemplified by the tracks by Little Walter Jacobs, Othum Brown, Floyd Jones and Baby Faced Leroy whose contributions on this album cover a seven year period from 1947 – 1953.
The album is exactly what it declares – An Anthology of Chicago Blues covering the years 1947 – 1954.
***Side 1 of the album is rightly dominated by Little Walter who is on 5 of the 8 tracks. Like many bluesman in Chicago during the ’40s, Walter could often be found on the sidewalks of both Maxwell Street and Peoria Street, in and around the markets usually on a Sunday morning.
One of his earliest recordings, which was with Othum Brown, of whom little is actually known, is on this album and he also has a second track from 1947 where he provides the vocals on I Just Keep Lovin’ Her. Both of these tracks have an incredibly, but understandable, rural feel about them and both are really, quite simplistic – which typifies Little Walter’s early output of music.
In what is probably an overstatement, Walter went onto bigger and better things while Brown faded away.
Of course Walter was as adept on harmonica as he was guitar and his “harp” playing is a feature of the track Red Headed Woman.
Walter is also featured on two tracks as the Little Walter Trio, where he is joined by legendary bluesman Muddy Waters who is on guitar, and “Baby Face” Leroy Foster on drums. Foster also features on his own track on side 1 with Walter and Waters supporting him.
Side two represents the “cross-over” period when the early “raw” sounds hadn’t reached the polished music that would follow in the 60’s. However it did represent a period when there was a growth of more established venues which in turn was reflected in the establishment of more refined blues ensembles. And so it was that the best of whom were coming under the notice of the rapidly developing Chicago blues recording studios.
To a significant degree there was a lack of interest in the newly developing raw drive of the “new” blues among the older playing/recording monoliths. They were content in churning out a variety of semi-urbane/country blues that vacillated between good and more of the same.
Yet as the blues music of Chicago began to find new avenues of distribution and Chicago Blues began to dominate the juke boxes and began to appear on the counters of the myriad of record shops throughout both the South and parts of the West.
Newcomers sprang up to eagerly fill the void that was being created.
By the mid 1950’s artists such as Johnny Shines, John Brim and J.B. Hutto, along with many others, were beginning to be heard on radio stations beaming out from all the major cities of the South, particularly Chicago!
So it is that side two covers the period 1952 – 1954 and the early contributions the Chicago blues by Johnny Shines, John Brim and J.B & His Hawks.
Accompanying these three artists were men who would become known in their own right, bluesmen such as Walter Horton and Sunnyland Slim. Many readers will be aware of Walter Horton, also known as “Big Walter“, but Sunnyland Slim may not be as widely known.
Born in the Mississippi Delta area, he developed his skill and style before moving to Chicago in the 40’s. Sunny was in fact regarded as a patriarch of the Chicago blues scene for decades.
So we kick off with the track 1 on side 1 – Floyd Jones with On The Road Again – recorded in 1953.
Now one thing all blues aficionado’s understand is that so many blues tracks are derivatives, direct copies of or modifications with major or minor alterations of a previously recorded piece.
Sometimes the lyrics were changed, sometimes it was alterations or additions to the music. No one really minded as the roots of the blues came mainly from traditional spiritual tracks or from the first hand experiences of the black man.
In fact there was a period when the competition between these men (and women) was really fierce and no one really cared about “interpretations” being released under a new name.
The blues “song-book” is full of examples.
So it is no surprise that track 1 is an expressive reinterpretation of Tommy Johnson’s great track, Dark Road.
Tommy was an influential “delta-blues” man held in high esteem by audiences and peers alike. To the casual listener the music on this track featured sounds a bit too loose, sloppy even – this conclusion is so very wrong.
In fact supporting Floyd Jones, who is on guitar and does the vocals, is Sunnyland Slim on piano, Moody Jones on guitar and Elgin Edmonds on drums.
All these men are incredibly skilled players and in fact it is that they are so accomplished that actually gives the impression of overt looseness. It really is incredibly tight playing with each man giving the others space to play their part whilst being aware of the ‘whole”.
What I love about this track is that it has, from moment one, declared its roots are in the delta, yet it has the feel and even the howl the “Wolf” would popularise later.
It is a brilliant example of a very early stage of the Chicago blues sound. It is, putting it quite bluntly, a piece of brilliant blues that makes the hair stand up on the nape of my neck!
On The Road Again
Track 3 is Roll, Tumble and Slip by Delta Joe – recorded in 1949.
Yet another fantastic example of a modification of a previously recorded track.
Rollin’ and Tumblin‘ (or “Roll and Tumble Blues”) is a blues song first recorded by American singer/guitarist Hambone Willie Newbern in 1929, and was popularised by Muddy Waters who recorded it at Chess in Chicago.
It’s a track recorded by many artists – and while in my mind the Waters version takes some beating, this version by recorded one year before Muddy’s version, is distinctive for a number of reasons.
The first is the piano accompaniment, by Delta Joe himself.
Except for the addition of the piano this track is almost identical to the original version some 20 years earlier. There is no records of who accompanied Joe on guitar. What the track reminds us is yet again, that connection between the early Chicago scene and traditional Delta Blues – which this track “reeks” of.
It also reminds us that the piano was soon, very soon, to become part of the distinctive sound of the modern Chicago blues ensemble.
One final comment, and it is on the issue of just who Delta Joe was!
On the surface a simple enough question and one you might expect to be able to “google’ and find a definitive answer to – but you won’t be able to!
The fact of the matter is that it’s an active mystery even still today.
Chances are “he” was a totally unknown who wandered in off the streets one day and cut this track. There is so little evidence of many recordings. I could find this track and two others, all recorded in Chicago around the same date.
With today’s technology i’m surprised there has been no audio analysis to try and pin point the person. Was he a relative nobody or indeed a more well known artist?
Then again, it’s kind of nice to think that he was and still is, an unknown bluesman who did in fact wander in off the streets.
Roll Tumble and Slip
Track 5 is a must track in regard to the music that is an example of that credited to Little Walter on this album.
The track is I Just Keep Lovin’ Her, which was recorded in 1947 with Othum Brown on guitar accompanying Little Walter.
It is an energetic track and is also the very first of Little Walter’s recordings.
It is very simple in its construction. It reflects the more simplistic delta/country blues. Yet at the same time it moves along at a great pace and has Little Walter singing, in what can only be described as a very expressive manner, and blowing his harmonica (harp) for all his worth.
It certainly gives us a very early indication as to why he was revered as a brilliant blues harp player.
Well, I woke up this mornin’ feelin’ bad,
Thinkin’ ’bout the girl that I once have had,
‘Cause I just keep lovin’ her; well, I just keep lovin’ her.
You know, I just keep lovin’ her; I don’t know the reason why.
Well, a nickel is a nickel and a dime is a dime.
I got a little girl crazy ’bout cherry wine,
‘Cause I just keep lovin’ her; yes, I just keep lovin’ her.
You know I just keep lovin’ her; I don’t know the reason why.
Ah, goodbye, baby, if you call it gone.
I know it’s gonna hurt me but it won’t last long,
‘Cause I just keep lovin’ her; yes, I just keep lovin’ her.
You know, I just keep lovin’ her; I don’t know the reason why.
Now tell me now, babe, where you stayed last night.
Your shoes ain’t buttoned an’ your hair ain’t right,
‘Cause I just keep lovin’ her; well, I just keep lovin’ her.
Well, I just keep lovin’ her; I don’t know the reason why.
I Just Keep Lovin’ Her
The penultimate track on side 1 that we will examine is by the Baby Face Leroy Trio with Red Headed Woman.
Baby Face Leroy, born Leroy Foster. He was actually a member of Muddy Waters early band so it comes as no surprise to find Muddy playing guitar on this track.
Leroy was indeed a most talented bluesman in his own right and who played both guitar and drums and was a notable musician in Chicago from the mid 1940’s through to his untimely death in 1958, at the young age of only 35.
Joining Leroy and Muddy in this trio was was non other than Little Walter on harp, so this track brings three incredibly talented Chicago blues player together. The track was recorded in 1950.
Whilst all three members contribute some amazing playing, it is Little Walter’s harp playing that certainly stands out amongst some fine damn playing by them all.
Red Headed Woman
The final track on this side of the album is by Othum Brown and it titled Ora Nelle Blues.
Recorded in 1947 it has Othum on guitar and vocals supported once again by Little Walter on harp. You may recall that earlier I mentioned this track is the first recording of Little Walter – and Othum was only 17 when the track was recorded.
Interestingly Ora Nelle was not a person, but indeed was a legendary record label run out of a store in Chicago.
The label never had distribution; Ora Nelle’s were sold out of the store.
Ora Nelle was the first label to record the revolutionary blues harmonica player Little Walter, the only label to record guitarist Othum Brown, and the second to record guitarist Jimmy Rogers.
Its surviving holdings also include sides by Sleepy John Estes, Johnny Temple, and a guitar player known as “Boll Weevil.”
The label restricted itself to blues performances and it seems Ora Nelle was in the right place at the right time and this recording certainly captures the “new” emerging down-home blues sounds.
Ora Nelle Blues
Turning the record over and we are faced with seven tracks from three artists.
I have chosen one track from each, but I have to say my choice is purely personal, for each track really is a beauty and could have been used in this retro-review.
Both pieces of work from Johnny Shines are from his last commercial recording session in 1953.
Born in 1915 Shines continued to work right up to his death in 1992. Both the tracks on this album have the same two outstanding elements. The first is what can only be described as Shines’ devastating vocal delivery.
Then there is the intricately developed and full blooded harp work of the man who was known as “Big Walter” – Walter Horton.
The track Brutal Hearted Woman is a fine down-tempo blues piece while the first track on side 2 – Evening Sun is a mighty fine up-tempo piece that kicks into gear with Big Walter on harp.
I hope you concur with me when I say – “What a track!”
Tracks 3 and 4 feature the John Brim Trio with Brim on vocals and guitar, Sunnyland Slim on piano.
Sadly, there is no record of who played bass guitar. Both tracks were recorded in 1952 and are classic examples of the newly developing dynamic blues. This partially evolved around the piano, which was being played throughout the Chicago clubs and beer joints, and, resulted in a style that was “leaking” out into the satellite cities north of Chicago.
John Brim was a fixture in the Chicago blues scene of the 50’s.
Although his musical career began long before and has continued for 5 decades, 1950 through 1956 saw Brim involved with the cream of Chicago’s working and recording musicians.
In no less than 35 recordings for a half dozen labels, John Brim solidified his place in blues history with classics such as Ice Cream Man, Rattlesnake and Tough Times.
Despite Ice Cream Man being on this album, I have chosen to discuss and playt track 3, Humming Blues.
Earlier I talked about how blues players modified each others songs. Now this track is not based upon the 1929 track by Joe Linthecome, which has the same title, just to confuse matters.
Sunnyland Slim, on piano, is just wonderful as ever and there is such a strong element of what would become known at the New Orleans style, in this track.
There is no indication of who was singing backing vocal to John Brim.
The last three tracks feature J.B. Hutto, and his Hawks.
All three tracks were recorded in 1954 which makes them the most recent recorded tracks on this album.
Hutto’s huge voice, with his largely incomprehensible diction, along with the “slash-and-burn” style of playing was, Chicago Blues with a fierce raw edge all its own.
On these tracks the Hawks were made up of Hutto playing guitar and doing vocals, George Mayweather on harp, Joe Custom on guitar and “Pork Chop” [Eddie ‘Porkchop’ Hines] on washboard and drums.
This particular lineup only released 6 tracks, so we have 50% of their total output on this one album.
They are indeed powerful recordings and a comment on the liner notes even goes as far as to call them “demonic vocals”, but one thing is for certain – the tracks are a prime example of the Chicago blues of this period at its very best!
Let’s share track 5 – Lovin’ You which is not the best in terms of overall composition and playing of the three – in fact all three are stylistically different, but I just really enjoy the power and enthusiasm the pours out of this track.
The music on this album is raw at times, but it is never crude.
It features a powerhouse of vitality and represents some amazing recorded development of the then fertile and healthy early Chicago Blues scene.
Certainly the 1960’s had a more refined sound, but some of it was also insipid.
That label can never be applied to the music on this album.
Among many fine blues albums (both vinyl and CD) in my crate, On The Road Again: an anthology of Chicago Blues 1947 – 1954, is one of the best for its classic and exciting early electrified Chicago blues.
There were eight copies when I checked, available on Discogs, and they ranged from about $15.00 through to $45.00 (condition being a determinant), plus postage.
Unless you are a real blues fan you are unlikely to rush out and purchase it, but if you are a blues fan, especially of the Chicago style and you don’t have this album – buy it before the few available copies dry up.
Not unexpectedly there are no live performances by these artists made during the period these tracks were recorded. here is the best and most appropriate I could find on Youtube.
Floyd Jones performing Stockyard Blues, from the movie Chicago Blues, in 1970
Blue Midnight: The Film Bio of Little Walter
Johnny Shines – Sweet Home Chicago
J.B. Hutto and His Hawks [A short clip from the film Chicago Blues]
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –
Click to open the following reviews covering #’s 151 onward.
#155. Billy Thorpe – Tangier
#159. The Band – Stage Fright
#162. Jimi Hendrix – Radio One