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 174 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.
I’ve pulled some great albums from my own crate over the past few weeks, but time to return to one of my favourite music forms – the American Blues!
This vinyl album is titled – The Unissued 1963 Blues Festival. Released on the Red Lightnin label in 1986, it has the identifying code of RL0060. The album has eleven tracks, six on side 1 and five on side two.
Now the music on this album is being played by what can only be described as an “all-star lineup band”.
Sonny Boy Williamson [II] – Harmonica & vocals
Matt “guitar” Murphy – Guitar
Memphis Slim – Piano & vocals
Willie Dixon – Bass
Billy Stepney – Drums
So just how did all this come together? The 1963 American Folk Blues Festival toured across Europe and the music from this tour was released originally on the Fontana label.
However the concert played at Oberhausen, located in what was then West Germany, remained largely unheard, except for bootleg tracks played on a small French radio station in 1985.
I’m uncertain as to why it took some 23 years for this album to be released, but that performance at Oberhausen is captured on this album.
The one distracting thing is the “hum” on various tracks. According to the liner notes this hum was recorded along with the music and was due to a faulty microphone lead.
I ran the tracks through some cleaning software and it has removed some of it, but anymore and it would have seriously compromised the recording, so we grin and cope with it because the music is worthwhile.
i. Memphis Slim – Wish Me Well
ii. Memphis Slim – I Wrote This Song
iii. Memphis Slim – All By Myself
iv. Sonny Boy Williamson – 99
v. Sonny Boy Williamson – Bye Bye Bird
vi. Memphis Slim – In The Evening
i. Matt “Guitar” Murphy – Grooving On Bounce [Instrumental]
ii. Matt “Guitar” Murphy – Taking Off [Instrumental]
iii. Sonny Boy Williamson – All My Love In Vain
iv. Sonny Boy Williamson – Don’t Start Me Talking
v. Sonny Boy Williamson – Blues Brother
Even though this is an album of live performances and so doesn’t follow my theory that applies to “studio albums”, that is track one is the album calling card, it is in fact still a fine track indeed to commence with.
Wish Me Well is a track that is led by Memphis Slim. Now I have a Memphis Slim album coming up on a future Cream of The Crate retro-review, so I’ll keep detailed comments about his background until that review.
Suffice to say that Memphis Slim is both a damn fine blues singer as well as master of the blues piano.
Now Slim happened to be living in Europe, in fact he had been living there since 1960. So when this tour took place, in many ways he was home. When he wasn’t on stage singing he was acting as master of ceremonies during this concert.
He had suffered a mild stroke a few years previously, but he also overcome it magnificently and as you will hear is indeed in fine form.
The track Wish Me Well was a song he first recorded back in the USA in 1954 and the guitarist that accompanied him on that original recording was non other than Matt Murphy, fondly known by all blues aficionados as Matt “Guitar” Murphy.
So how appropriate was it that when this track was recorded some seven years later, that Memphis Slim was reunited with “Guitar” Murphy who plays not just good guitar, he plays great guitar!
Wish Me Well
Track 3 is also by Memphis Slim and it titled All By Myself.
With this track Memphis Slim bumps the pace up several notches. The track was originally recorded by Slim with Big Bill Broonzy.
Memphis Slim introduces this very fine, almost “barrelhouse” blues style track, but in fact the whole track is suggestive of a variety of styles with the barrelhouse feel giving it an early form of jazz with wild, improvised piano and an accented two-beat rhythm not unlike Boogie Woogie.
Yet it hidden away within it is definitely the suggestions of the early beginnings of rock and roll, and I’ll be damned if toward the end we don’t seem to be heading for Latin America!
All By Myself
By the time we come to track 4 we have come to the first track by Sonny Boy Williamson.
Now Sonny Boy (the second) was an enigma wrapped up in a solid blues cloth. The story goes he had many names for himself and if you asked him his real name he might just give you yet another version and also give a different version of his date and place of birth.
It all appears as though it was depending upon the mood he was in.
It is generally accepted that his real name was Alex (although many will argue it was Aleck) Miller, and that he was born in Glendora in Mississippi sometime in the 1890’s, although Wikipedia claims it was 1912.
The only thing writers seem to agree upon is death date – May 25, 1965.
In the minds and hearts of blues fans was he was something akin to the “Second Coming” and when you listen to his vocals and brilliant harp (harmonica) playing, you might also agree.
He was reputed as being tough and ornery and hard to get on with, except on stage as this amazing recording shows. He was one of the great communicators, and most certainly a “craftsman” of the blues.
I just love the way when he sings it is as if he was sharing state secrets through to the inner secrets of his life, with a very close friend – that friend being the entire audience.
Then there is his hap playing which is just beyond belief and so eerily expressive.
Any other backing on this track would have been redundant, so just sit back and enjoy absolutely and totally unadulterated blues singing and harp playing the like you will never hear by anyone else.
To me the track is about human greed – a big call – but regardless the audience sat in utter delightful and reverent silence until the end.
Darling you know exactly what happened, last year just about this time
Yes you know exactly what happened, last year just about this time
You asked me for one hundred dollars, and I didn’t have but ninety nine
Yes I’m in love with the little girl, just because she’s so nice and kind
I’m in love, I’m in love with the little girl, just because she’s so nice and kind
I was so sorry when she asked me for one hundred dollars,
I couldn’t give her but ninety nine
Yes my baby taken sick on July twenty-nine
Yes the one I love she taken sick on July twenty-nine
Her doctor billed her four hundred dollars,
And I didn’t have but three hundred and ninety nine.
For the final track on side 1 we return to Memphis Slim, and his last featured track called In The Evening.
This is a track that is presented in a beautiful blues ballad style. The piano and the guitar playing Matt Murphy is just so delicate and along with the drumming of Billy Stephany and the subtle bass of the mighty Willie Dixon, he provides us with a delightful piece of blues.
There is something about this track that tells us that these guys just fit together like a hand in glove – nothing is forced, space rules and each player is able to comfortable find their place in the music without the overall piece being filled.
In The Evening
Kicking off side 2 of this remarkably rare album is Matt “Guitar” Murphy, with Grooving On Bounce“.
Born in 1929 in the home of the blues – Mississippi and during the years of the Great Depression, Matt Murphy is a truly great blues guitarist. Yet until the making of the the two Blues Brothers movies, he remained relatively unknown except to blues music aficionados.
What many people don’t realise is that the Blues Brothers, which included Murphy, was indeed a working band prior to the making of the movies and indeed, has continued after the death of James Belushi with rotating membership.
Murphy’s career is quite amazing in as much as, in 1948 he was playing in the Howling Wolf Band alongside Little Junior Parker, worked with Memphis Slim and did years of session work with music luminaries such as Ike Turner, Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Otis Rush, Etta James, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Chuck Berry.
Despite a debilitating stroke in 2003, he has almost totally recovered and is still playing today.
Yet, he did not have his own band until 1982 and did not bring out his first album – Way Down South, until 1990.
The tour that this album was taken from, ranged wide and far and Matt Murphy really did more than hold his own, he “killed” the audiences with his playing.
Now while the track Grooving On Bounce is indeed a fine track indeed, it is track 2 on side 2 – Taking Off, where he and his guitar playing really does, take off!
This track is a “mother” of a hip shaking track that explodes across the speakers, and I guess if you saw the concert live, across the stage.
It is rumoured that Murphy warms up his fingers playing Django Reinhardt solos!!!
Well, I’m a believer, because the speed at which his fingers fly across the frets makes you wonder if he has seven fingers on his hand.
The final three tracks on this side are all by the venerable Sonny Boy Williamson, and I have chosen to look at tracks 3 and 5.
When Matt Murphy had finished playing Taking Off, I guess the audience could rightly be expected to be thinking, how the hell is that going to be topped? What can compete with that piece of music?
Well, needless to say Sonny Boy strolled onto the stage and proceeded to blow his harp and blow the minds of the entire audience with an astounding version of All My Love In Vain.
Now this track should not be confused with the Robert Johnson track “Love In Vain”, successfully covered by the Rolling Stones.
THIS All My Love In Vain is no slow solemn piece of blues, this is quite an uptempo piece and Matt Murphy is obviously still ‘warm” from his previous track, as he contributes a nice piece of guitar work to compliment Williamsons harp and some nice piano work by Memphis Slim.
All My Love In Vain
It is appropriate the Sonny Boy closed this particular show, because despite the amazing talent on the stage, he was indeed the highlight.
The final track, track 5 is Blues Brother.
This track is beautiful “downtempo” piece of blues that is loaded with deep, serious, almost sepulchral singing supported by sombre, but brilliant harp playing.
It is easy to imagine him stooping at the microphone, gazing into the distance, into his memories with a look of emotion (and considerable Johnny Walker), his harp cupped in one hand and the audience in the other.
A memorable final track by one of the true blues greats, who very sadly passed away less than two years later in 1965.
It is not a flippant comment to say, “his like will never pass this way again”!
There were other recordings made of this tour, and they are really excellent, but there is something special about this lineup combination and really, the music on this album could not be surpassed.
Despite the annoying “hum” that was recorded and breaks through at times, this is a worthy album to have in a collection.
The opportunity of hearing Sonny Boy Williamson, Memphis Slim, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Willie Dixon and Billy Stepney playing live, together, is an opportunity that should not be missed.
Brilliance is as brilliance does – and these guys are brilliant!
The album The Unissued 1963 Blues Festival was re-released on CD in 1999 but there are still copies of this original vinyl available through Discogs for as little as about $16.00 through to $50.00.
It is rare and it IS worth having.
The only film of these artists on this tour were in 60 minute clips, so I edited out these clips to demonstrate the class and skill of the artists we have looked at.
Sonny Boy Williamson II – Keep It To Yourself
Memphis Slim playing on the 1963 European Blues Tour
Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Billy Stepney & Memphis Slim Live at the 1963 European Blues Festival
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
#170. Chain – Two Of A Kind
#171. Bob Marley – Legend