Georgie Price

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BOOK: THE NEW PARAMOUNT BOOK OF BLUES. By Alex van der Tuuk. Agram Blues Books, Holland. 418pp, hardback, illustrated. ISBN 978-90-826570-0-5. Available from

In a year that has already produced some outstanding additions to the essential library of American Roots music, along comes this 418 page beauty to rival the best.

  I must first declare a personal interest. Author Alex van der Tuuk is a long-time friend of mine - and my name is listed and acknowledged in this and most of his other publications – but then the field of research and of interest in this music of a bygone age is dwindling and I would think it might be hard to find someone qualified to review this book whose name does not appear somewhere in it’s pages. The good news is that even for those among us that have also spent an unhealthy amount of their lives dedicated to unearthing the smallest minutiae relating to our long-gone musical heroes,  will  discover in this book, many new details and previously unknown facts.

  Each chapter is an alphabetically listed thorough or potted history of many of the performers that saw their records released on Paramount’s legendary 12/13000 ‘race’ series.

  As the books title suggests, those Paramount recording artists most easily identified as playing ‘Jazz’ music, only get a passing mention, although Lovie Austin – presumably by virtue of her piano accompaniment to several of Paramount’s biggest female stars such as Ma Rainey and Ida Cox – is awarded the opening chapter. Only Papa Charlie Jackson among Paramount’s earliest and biggest stars get their own slot and while Blind Lemon Jefferson’s connections with Will Ezell are noted and Ma Rainey’s with Georgia Tom etc, The author has omitted all these and other big-time ‘usual suspects’ including Ida Cox and Alberta Hunter, as these are all thought to have been more than adequately covered in previously published full length biographies or shorter definitive articles. Although other ‘unmistakable’ Blues singer/players such as Lucille Bogan, Henry Brown, Bumble Bee Slim and Clifford Gibson made the majority of their recordings, not for Paramount but other rival ‘race series’ produced by Brunswick or Victor etc. Their odd couplings for Paramount or brief defections to the label neatly allows for their inclusion in this study and in most cases results in the fullest and most accurate biographical portraits of these musicians yet published.

  Minor gripe… I would personally have liked to have seen at least some musical analysis -not least considering the varied and fascinating differences between many of the artists under scrutiny. Another minor gripe concerns  the 40 odd record labels and adverts that accompany the text – while these ‘additions’ are always welcome – these, to my eyes are so ‘over-photoshopped’ that they seem to have somehow been rendered ‘unreal’.

  But my own personal visual grievances at least, are easily won over by the appearance of some twenty nicely reproduced photographs, some of which – including Clifford Gibson and his dog ‘Roughhouse’ collecting tips in St Louis or Henry Brown with his three brothers and elsewhere, one Doctor William Brown – who it transpires is possibly Piano Kid Edwards! – are all new to me.

  Long-time U.K. researcher and writer Chris Smith is generously credited with ‘editing the manuscript’ and ‘juicing up’ the author’s English, and with a knowledge of both of these academic’s writing styles, I imagine it possible to sometimes ‘see the joins’ – but this is no ‘dry read’ or an endless list of census / ‘facts’ to anaesthetise the normal person’s cerebral activity.  This is not just readable… but often ‘fun’!    With a seemingly exhaustive search through vintage on-line newspaper archives, the author has unearthed, not just dates and sightings, but some simply wonderful mini glimpses at the workings and happenings of past lives – these in turn, breathe a life and soul into the artists and to the narrative. My particular favourite involves Walter ‘Buddy Boy’ Hawkins, (not quite such a biographical blank following this publication), who, finding himself up before Judge Penix on a vagrancy charge was allowed to produce his guitar as proof of his occupation and capped off the entertainment from the dock by demonstrating the art of ‘throwing his voice’. It is at this point that all lovers of Buddy Boy’s immaculate Voice Throwin’ Blues should be saying..”well, I’m blowed!” “so, he was a ventriloquist!” or similar. By the way, the judge at this point was said to have given Hawkins a quarter instead of a fine – which I find a bit hard to believe.

  There is, of course, much more than this little gem to find in these pages and although the time has long gone when first hand research could be undertaken by face to face interviews with original artists, their families or friends, today’s researcher invariably relies on ‘on-line’ facilities from official and written records.  I can give reliable witness to the quite painfully, dogged determination that the Author has applied himself to with all things ‘Paramount’ and while pursuing every lead, clue, quote and connection that has appeared, Van der Tuuk (and many others – to be fair)  have managed to  obtain a truly staggering amount of  ‘up-to-date’  and accurate information from a period nearing a century past. Most importantly, this tome to me  – friend or no friend – joins the top ten most fascinating books ever written on America’s best documented music. If you are one of the few hundred that are still interested – then buy it and keep this music alive.


CD: WEST COAST JAZZ  Recorded in California, 1922-27.

26 tracks.  Jazz Oracle BDW8071.

Given the amount of public attention focused on California throughout the first three decades of the last century, as the acknowledged world leader in the movie industry, it’s surprising that so little notice was taken of its music industry. Of course, movies were silent then, so the composers and orchestras that flourished on the film lots from 1928 onwards were absent up till the arrival of sound. But California was no stranger to dance music and jazz in the teens and 1920s and was familiar territory for several of the great pioneers: Jelly Roll Morton was there for long enough to team up with the Spikes Brothers, and Joe Oliver visited in 1921. By the mid-20s, there was a thriving jazz and dance-band scene on the West Coast, so it is odd, firstly, that there was so little recording activity in the Golden State and, secondly, that so little is known or has been written about what did go on there, especially as some of the very earliest and rarest recordings by black musicians were made in Los Angeles. It was Kid Ory who really set things going when he settled there in 1919; the recordings he made in 1922 for the Spikes Brothers’ Sunshine label reveal a band playing what in every way was ‘text-book’ New Orleans jazz, honed and matured back in Louisiana, as John McCusker writes in his fascinating biography Creole Trombone (UPM, 2012). These were the first ‘territory’ recordings, but because they were sold almost exclusively in California, they attracted far too little attention at the time. This CD goes a good way towards putting right that neglect. It offers some of the rarest and most interesting of the early recordings made in Los Angeles and Hollywood.


  Ory’s first recordings with his ‘Sunshine Orchestra’ (he himself called it his Creole Band) were accompanying two singers, Roberta Dudley and Ruth Lee, who were local club celebrities but otherwise unknown beyond the state line. The sessions were organized by the Spikes Brothers, who owned a record store in Los Angeles and also provided bands and singers for ‘society’ venues and wanted to cash in on the blues record craze, which had by 1922 reached California and saw them selling thousands of recordings by Mamie Smith and Alberta Hunter. They were selling, as per the CD liner notes, a 100 copies a day of Hunter’s Someday Sweetheart on Black Swan, which the Spikes had written in collaboration with Jelly Roll Morton. However, none of the four sides Dudley and Lee recorded between them, not even Krooked Blues, is a true blues: they were all written by the brothers and are just bluesy pop songs. The recordings were made in an improvised studio run by Andrae Nordskog, on an improvised recording lathe, essentially a simple horn phonograph in reverse. The masters were then shipped back east for processing, as there was no pressing facility in Los Angeles.


Roberta Dudley is an adequate enough performer, but on Krooked Blues it’s the musicians who are outstanding. This number calls for multiple, split breaks and Mutt Carey, Ory and Dink Johnson handle these with aplomb: they get to play a full chorus and demonstrate they were every bit as good as Oliver’s Creole Band, whose recording of this number is much better known. Of particular interest is Fred Washington’s piano, heard clearly behind the vocal in spite of the indifferent recording quality: here is an astoundingly accomplished musician who manages to inject some true blues feeling into the performance. The band takes only a background role in When You’re Alone Blues, and it’s Washington’s fine piano that provides the bulk of the accompaniment here. 


  Ruth Lee sings with a good deal of vibrato and a more jazzy swing, but not much else. Maybe Some Day is a thinly disguised re-working of Someday Sweetheart (one way of making sure Morton didn’t get a royalty cheque!). It’s an interesting side, because the band is able to give a good account of itself; Dink Johnson’s flowing clarinet line is excellent and the recording balance allows the instruments to stand out above the vocal – possibly too much so, because the recording balance - as the studio was very cramped -  makes Lee sound as if she’s straining to be heard. So on That Sweet Something Dear, Fred Washington’s piano is once again the main backing and his accompaniment swings along beautifully, a far cry from the often wooden and stilted style of some of the pianists used on better known blues records made in Chicago and New York.


  The Ory band’s two instrumental sides, Ory’s Creole Trombone and Society Blues, are much better known than the foregoing: they’ve been extensively re-issued, but never in such clarity nor usually at the correct speed (they were recorded at 83rpm). The band is totally relaxed and the clarity of the transfers makes Ory’s playing sound even more astonishingly accomplished. His blues line on the second title is majestic, whilst Mutt Carey’s muted cornet is as good as anything recorded back east – outstanding. A third title – Froggie Moore Rag – was also recorded, but the master melted on the trip to New Jersey for processing!


  The rest of the tracks on the CD – with two exceptions – were recorded by the Hollywood (later Sunset) label, which lasted for about two years: 1924 – 1926. Harvey Brooks’ Quality Four plays in a very different style to the Ory group. Brooks hailed from Philadelphia and is cited as one of Duke Ellington’s early piano influences. He was the musical director of the band that accompanied Mamie Smith on her 1923 West Coast tour, and he decided to stay there. His two reedmen – Paul Howard and Leon Herriford – had arrived in California from New Orleans much earlier, in 1911. Both they, and Brooks, were to find greater fame and fortune in the late 20s playing with Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders and the Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra, which accompanied Louis Armstrong during his West Coast residency. Brooks went on to work in the film industry. The ‘four’ is completed by “Tincan” Allen, who plays drums and kazoo. Brooks’ piano playing is much less sophisticated than that of Fred Washington: he was essentially a ragtime player and this is reflected in the more rigid, two-beat rhythm of this group, immediately discernible from the start of Mistreating Daddy, one of three numbers on which they accompany singer Jessie Derrick. We know as little about Derrick as we do about the two earlier vocalists, except that she is a much better performer than either of those Ory worked with, at once more earthy and more powerful, with a punchy delivery. Her singing on this first number is especially effective, but Who Will Get It is less so, though it does feature a good chorus by the band. If You’ll Come Back is rather better, with an excellent riff chorus behind the kazoo. Frankie and Johnny Blues is the first instrumental side by the Quality Four: Brooks’ piano in the opening ensemble is plonky, but his solo is, by contrast, very fluid and I can understand why Ellington admired him so much. “Tincan” Allen plays a rasping kazoo solo here. Nobody’s Sweetheart is, overall, the best performance by the band; it glides along at a good pace, with another fine solo from Brooks, full of intricate rhythmic shifts and Mortonesque arpeggios He does speed up noticeably and the band rides out the number much faster than it began it! Down On The Farm is full of vocal and instrumental hokum that will hardly please every modern listener, but was, no doubt, what the crowd at the Quality Café (a rough dive, by all accounts) loved.


  Four alternate takes by this group are included at the end of the CD; Down On The Farm is much as before, but on Mistreatin’ Daddy, despite being the second take, the band is rather less assured than on the first, though Jessie Derrick’s performance is just as good. Brooks’ solo on the alternate of Frankie and Johnny Blues is more intricate and delicate, and Leon Herriford’s alto solo is more fluent. I think the second take of If You’ll Come Back is also better than the first: Derrick tackles it with more confidence and Brooks’ piano behind the kazoo shows some excellent licks.


  An unknown band, on an unidentified but probably Hollywood label test pressing from late 1924, plays two pop tunes of the time: No-one Knows What It’s All About and Mean Blues. The first title is very vo-do-de-o-do at the start, but then the trombone takes an interesting solo, with cornet interjections in what is otherwise mainly an ensemble number; the ride-out is dominated by a now much more swinging cornet lead. Mean Blues is rhythmically more relaxed, with the trombone driving the opening ensemble along; the clarinetist really lets go over two choruses in the latter half of this number.


  Reb (short for “Rebel”) Spikes was born either in Dallas, Texas, or in Oklahoma, in 1888, depending on which sources you believe, but his family were in Los Angeles by 1897, where he initially worked on building sites, whilst harbouring ambitions to be a painter. He only turned to music when his elder brother John bought him a drum-kit. By the time he made his first records in Hollywood in 1924, he was also playing clarinet, trombone and piano, but was apparently most proficient on baritone and bass saxes. He plays the latter on the two very rare sides by Reb’s Legion Club 45’s: Steppin’ High (a.k.a My Mammy’s Blues) and Sheffield Blues. The personnel is highly speculative but probably includes Lionel Hampton on drums and two more than competent trumpeters, who both take solos on Steppin’ High, a fast-paced number that romps along in fine style. After some verbal hokum, Sheffield Blues – a genuine 12-bar for once - opens with a good piano solo and a fine muted trumpet chorus. The trombonist then steals the show for the rest of this side. The next two numbers, by Reb Spikes Majors and Minors, are much better known, as they were recorded for Columbia some three years later and turn up fairly frequently. My Mammy’s Blues is every bit as well executed a performance as the earlier version, if slightly faster: the two trumpeters are different, but the brass work is as fiery as you could wish for. There’s also some good alto sax, which might even be by Spikes himself. The second side, Fight That Thing, swings along nicely, though some of the section work is slightly stiff.


  The next track takes us back to 1925, with pianist Dick Lucke and his Arcadians and Suite 16. The band wasn’t based on the West Coast but was touring there when it cut this private recording with Hollywood. They have a good rhythm – the banjoist is well recorded and knows his stuff - with a trombonist who turns in a well constructed muted chorus, and a good tenor player. It’s a great pity they never recorded commercially. Freddie Carter and his Orchestra did make records for Sunset, though the one on this CD was issued on the California label and doesn’t appear either in American Dance Bands on Record (which only lists two titles, though the liner notes hint at more), or in Jazz & Ragtime Records Eccentric is as hot and rhythmically accomplished a performance as that by Dick Lucke; the front-liners have something of the sound of the Abe Lyman band and this is, as the liner notes point out, a close copy of the Friars’ Society version of the tune.


  Lake Arrowhead was, and is, a popular vacation resort east of Los Angeles. Exactly who the Lake Arrowhead Orchestra were is not known, though a photo of them – included in the liner notes – shows a sextet of young guys in striped blazers. They are an accomplished group of trumpet, reeds and rhythm: the sax and clarinet are much to the fore on Everything is Hotsy Totsy Now, which features not only some good solos but also excellent, crisp section work. The same is not entirely the case with Deep Henderson, on which the trumpeter plays an excellent solo, but the performance is spoiled by one of the reedmen, who is decidedly off key in the section riffs. Even so, it’s an interesting hot side.


  Apart from the Sunshine and Columbia tracks, all the material on this CD is from Hollywood issues or tests. But many more hot sides were issued by Hollywood on their Sunset label, which was sold through Kress, a chain of local department stores. None of these West Coast issues is at all common and the ones on disc here are almost all especially rare. This CD will be an essential addition to most shelves, in particular because it offers a first glimpse of a largely undocumented area of the record industry. May we hope that some of the Sunset output – and indeed other West Coast material – will be offered in due course?

Max Easterman


CD: FROG SPAWN  -  THE FOURTH BATCH. Frog DGF 85. 26 Tracks, various artists.

The variety to be found in these twenty-six tracks is such that this fourth batch of Frog Spawn is something of a curate’s egg but the good parts outweigh those that are less appetising. 


  Livery Stable Blues from the Friars Society Orchestra that is in effect the New Orleans Rhythm Kings is a more satisfying and relaxed performance than that from the O.D.J.B. that sounds dated in comparison.  This is hardly surprising bearing in mind that the latter performance was recorded some five years earlier.  Contrary to the information contained in the discographical section, it was not transferred from John Steiner’s Paramount 14028 but from a unique Gennett test that was once owned by trumpeter Paul Mares.  Likewise, the sixth track on this CD, the N.O.R.K.’s Everybody Loves Somebody Blues (with an entirely different personnel from that of Livery Stable Blues except for Mares) comes not from Bluebird B-10956  but from a Victor master from which the Bluebird was dubbed.  Santo Pecora and Charlie Cordella do not suffer by comparison with George Brunies and Leon Roppolo on the earlier recording. 


  Down Among The Sleepy Hills Of Ten-Ten-Tennessee does not sound to be too promising but this performance, one of only five recorded by the Original Georgia Five for the short-lived Olympic label, is well worthy of inclusion here.  The fluent clarinet of either Larry Hart or Harry Dukes is prominent throughout this delightful obscurity.  The band is just as good if not better than many others that recorded more frequently. 


  Musical appreciation is very much a matter of taste but the temperature does rather drop when one comes to Sundown Blues and Florida Blues from W.C. Handy’s Orchestra.  They are rather dour, stiff performances. It is suggested that Thomas ‘Tick’ Gray is the trumpeter and who later recorded with King Oliver for Vocalion.  Handy has been applauded as one of the pioneering figures of jazz but his reputation cannot rest on performances such as these.  Pioneers are expected to lead from the front! 


  The frequently recorded Lots O’ Mama from the pen of that prolific tunesmith Elmer Schoebel is one of three rejected 1924 recordings by Frank E. Ward and His Orchestra for Lincoln.  It is notable in that it was Sylvester Ahola’s first recording date and it is presumably he of the two trumpet players who solos.  The prominent baritone player is Ward himself.  It was worthy of issue as perhaps were the other recordings one of which was The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else that had been recorded for Gennett only two months earlier by Cook’s Dreamland Orchestra. 


  Had Jimmy O’Bryant not been a slave to the alcoholism that probably led to kidney failure and to his death in Chicago’s County Hospital in June 1928 he might well have gone down in history as one of the most influential of those early clarinettists who did not come from New Orleans.  His many recordings under his own name and an even greater number of accompaniments to Ida Cox, Ma Rainey and other blues singers may indicate that Lovie Austin preferred him for recording purposes to Johnny Dodds.  Here we have three alternative takes to those on Frog DGF 51, Back Alley Rub, Charleston Fever and Switch It Miss Mitchell.  All are very attractive performances.  Comparison with the other take of Back Alley Rub is testament to O’Bryant’s versatility.  It is slow and wistful whereas the other two, with an effervescent Bob Shoffner added on Charleston Fever, are taken at a brisk pace.

  Rhythm Of The Day is a Donald Lindley composition.  The Tempo Kings are believed to be men from Ross Gorman’s Earl Carroll Vanities Orchestra.  It features a long solo from trumpet player Lindley and another from the intriguingly-named bass sax player Barney Acquelina who does not sound to be entirely at ease.  Miff Mole is present but you would not know it from this recording. 


  Don’t Forget To Mess Around When You Do The Charleston is the first of two issued Paramount takes (both are on Neatwork RP2053, a Twenties pot- pourri) from Austin And His Musical Ambassadors, a group of unjustly neglected musicians drawn from Sammy Stewart’s Orchestra.  Eugene Hutt, a fine trumpet player, and Vance Dixon, a little appreciated reed player, distinguish themselves, the latter playing both alto and clarinet on this soothingly relaxed performance.  


  Canadian-born trumpet player Jimmy Lequime’s Grand Hotel Orchestra’s Soho Blues was recorded in Calcutta by HMV in April 1926, at HMV’s Dum Dum studios.  The band is not mentioned in Rust’s editions but it should be.  It is a pleasant tune that is tastefully played with solos from leader Lequime and trombone player Pete Harmon whose dated vocal is mercifully brief.  Al Bowlly takes a crisp banjo break. 


  Bennie Moten’s Missouri Wobble, a previously-unissued take from his first Victor recording date, is little different from that issued by that company.  There is no weak link in what was the most successful band in Kansas City.  The brass, Lammar Wright, Thamon Hayes and Vernon Page all solo, the last named at surprising length, as does Woody Walder with his piercing clarinet.  This is an easy-going performance from the band of a man equally popular, it is reported, with his men, many of whom stayed with him for many years, and with the general public. 


  The outstanding track on this Fourth Frog Spawn collection is Fletcher Henderson’s Fidgety Feet recorded in March 1927 when many would argue that his band was at its peak.  Coleman Hawkins is at his most violent and there are superb solos from Joe Smith, Tommy Ladnier and Jimmy Harrison.  The other equally exciting take of this powerful performance is on the CD accompanying the first Frog Blues And Jazz Annual.  They would on this form have blown away Duke Ellington who, however, is very well represented here by tests from Victor, Vocalion and Brunswick (mostly courtesy of Mark Berresford).  The earliest of these are Washington Wobble and The Blues I Love To Sing on which latter Adelaide Hall refers to Blues She Loves To Hear with sensitive obligato from Bubber Miley.  It is Louis Metcalf, seemingly less favoured by Ellington than Miley, who leads off with a solo on Washington Wobble which has a typical contribution from Harry Carney.  Both are highly polished arrangements.  Oklahoma Stomp, a frantic performance from the Six Jolly Jesters is notable for a fine Freddie Jenkins solo followed by others from Ellington himself and from Tricky Sam Nanton.  They are capped by a young Teddy Bunn who (with washboard player Bruce Johnson who was apparently recruited for this October 1929 date) was for a time Freddie Guy’s replacement when the Ellington band was on tour.  His is an outstanding performance.  Ellington’s pseudonyms proliferate.   The Jungle Band is that for Cotton Club Stomp but it is as his orchestra that he recorded takes of Old Man Blues, this being take 3.  Both performances might justifiably be regarded as standard Ellington night club fare but are sure to delight his many followers, there being much to be admired from all concerned. 


  Someone at Victor must have realised how good a pianist and arranger was 300 pound Tiny Parham.  He recorded 39 titles for them, all of his own composition except for Squeeze Me and with only one of them, Cheerful Blues, unissued.  Alternative takes of several of them have already been reissued and here we have the first take of Back To The Jungle.  It is a splendidly atmospheric performance, built on the solid foundation of Milt Hinton’s brass bass.  Roy Hobson appears to have alternated with Punch Miller (and by whom he sounds to have been strongly influenced) on Parham’s Victor dates.  He is an impressive performer whether open or muted as is the other little-known Parham regular, Charlie Johnson.  This is one of Parham’s many melodies that ‘stay in the mind’ as it were. 


  Phil Napoleon made a prodigious number of recordings in a long career.  There are, for instance, more than nine pages devoted to recordings of the Original Memphis Five in the current edition of Rust on only a few of which Napoleon is replaced by either Manny Klein or Red Nichols.  This take three of  Go, Joe, Go is from one of Napoleon’s own orchestras.  It is a rather unusual but effective performance with solos from both trumpeters and an attractive ensemble passage from the reeds, one of whom is Frank Ward whose performance of Lots O’ Mama is on this CD. 


  Peter van Steeden led a number of bands in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s recording for, amongst others Pathe Actuelle.  Cornfed, from his Hotel Half Moon Orchestra, is from that company.   Taken at a brisk pace it is notable for a splendid chorus from Sylvester Ahola who is the only musician of note in this eleven piece band. 


  Happy Holmes’ When Folks Stop Talkin’ and Walkin’ is a humorous monologue in the style of Bert Williams, that is of interest primarily for Thomas Morris’ accomplished opening chorus.  This is the first take; the second, backed by Solid Ground, another monologue, has been issued on the second Frog Spawn batch (DGF73). 


  The most modern sounding sides are from Eddie Deas and His Boston Brownies in 1931.  Jus’ Shufflin’ (not the issued take, despite the accompanying discography)  All I Care About Is You and Little Mary Brown are heavily arranged but energetically played pop songs from a ten piece band with no outstanding players.  They are unfortunately marred by the leader’s rather pompous vocals.  Trombonist Chester Burrell and reed player Buster Tolliver, both of whom went on to join and to record with Noble Sissle, occasionally emerge from the wall of sound.


  Paul Swinton is to be congratulated for again coming up with an intriguing bill of fare, Brian Goggin for his thoroughly researched sleeve notes, Nick Dellow for his expert remastering and Mark Berresford for supplying many splendid recordings from his collection.



BOOK: THE ART OF THE BLUES. By Bill Dahl and Chris James. University of Chicago Press. 224pp, 4-colour hardbound, profusely illustrated. ISBN 978-0226396699.

Imagery, since the earliest days of blues records, has been a potent driving force in their promotion and sales to core African American and later, white teenage, buyers. Think of the classic Paramount and Vocalion advertisements liberally-sprinkled through the pages of the Chicago Defender and other black-targeted newspapers which, thanks to John Tefteller’s Blues Images calendars, have reached a whole new, younger, audience beyond the Mouldy Fygge shellac hounds. These adverts are, to modern sensibilities, crudely racist caricatures, but to black record buyers of the 1920s they were recognisable variations on a familiar image, seen literally in every other walk of everyday life - be it foodstuff product labels, sheet music, magazines and street furniture. Razor-toting mammas, sharp-suited strutting pimps, ‘monkey men’, ghosts and spectral imagery are constant themes in 1920s record company advertising.  Add to this the artistry of ‘race record’ sleeves, niche record catalogues and flyers, colourful sheet music covers, posters and, later, LP covers, not forgetting the fetish of the labels themselves - Black Swan, Paramount, Gennett, Champion, QRS and many more, then at once it becomes apparent that there is a wealth of relatively untapped blues imagery ripe for revelation to a new generation of fans and proto-fans brought up on faceless Spotify and iTunes downloads.


  The authors - Bill Dahl’s insightful and knowledgeable text and VJM subscriber Chris James’ eyecatchingly curated images - bring all the different strands of blues (and by default, much jazz) imagery into one gloriously colourful large format book. The phrase ‘Coffee table book’ is all too often used in a derisory, superior, way, implying that it is a triumph of style over substance, and that ‘serious’ books can only be mono, matt-papered treatises in 8 point Garamond (and we’ve all got plenty of them on our shelves, haven’t we?), but in this instance it is fair to say that this tome will happily grace the beverage furniture of all but the most pinched-face academic. More importantly, it brings to a wider, younger, readership, the full gloriously technicolored world of the black music milieu before the dreaded CD and the download took everything back to uniform austerity.


  The chapters follow a thematic and roughly chronological timeline; starting in the era before blues appeared on record, it opens with ragtime and early blues sheet music covers, which expands to include the music covers ‘tied in’ with the latest records by artists signed up to the likes of music publishers-exploiters Clarence Williams, Perry Bradford , Jack and Irving Mills and the Melrose brothers.


  As might be expected, the pre-war newspaper ads get a chapter to themselves, with a sub-chapter on the Chicago Defender, and there are many images there that were new to me.


  Race record catalogues and flyers, because of their ephemerality, are now incredibly rare and keenly fought over when copies come up for auction, so it’s good to see a substantial chapter devoted to them, with accompanying record labels and covers, along with reproductions of selected pages from Victor, Vocalion, Gennett, Bluebird and Decca examples. This section also includes sub-chapters on Victor and the F.W, Boerner mail order company, who carved an industry niche supplying ‘race records’.


  The chapter on record labels (many in their original sleeves) will have most VJM readers salivating, not just for the labels but also for the portraits of blues artists interspersed - all beautifully reproduced.


  The chapter on theatre and movie posters is particularly good, with some very seldom-seen images, including the poster for Bessie Smith’s 1929 movie St. Louis Blues  and for Sunday Sinners, starring blues record pioneer Mamie Smith. As blues clubs proliferated after WW2, the need for brash, colourful advertising increased, and there are many fine examples reproduced.


  The post-war period saw a change of style and emphasis on imagery - gone was the racist portrayals of Paramount’s adverts, and in came the artistic album cover - some abstract, some pictorial and some, downright weird. Likewise, the challenge to the dominance of the big record companies by small independents saw some eyecatching art appearing on 78 labels - most notably William ‘Alex’ Alexander’s witty illustrations for Roy Milton’s Miltone label.


  The chapter on Blues artist photographs is superb, with many images new to me (I have to declare an interest at this point, having supplied material for this and other chapters, together with some other well-known VJM subscribers) and again, beautifully reproduced at a decent size - the major downfall of the late Frank Drigg’s ‘Black Beauty, White Heat’ was the compromise of image size to squeeze so much in. It’s nice to see sub-chapters devoted to African American photographers Henry and Robert Hooks of Memphis, and chronicler of the 1960s Chicago blues scene, Raeburn Flerlage.


  Publications devoted to the blues get a separate chapter, starting, not surprisingly, with the Paramount Book of the Blues, with several reproduced pages, along with magazines such as Ebony Song Parade, Jazz Parade and Rhythm and Blues, as well as a smaller than expected sub-chapter on European blues publications, considering that much of the best writing in the 1950s and 60s on the blues emanated from British and European publications. It’s a shame that some of the highly colourful American Folk Blues Festival programmes or the work of pre-war Dutch cartoonist Boy ten Hove couldn’t be included.


  As previously mentioned, this is a beautifully-produced and well thought-out book, printed on quality silk paper with super-sharp images. It’s a visual feast that is sure to appeal to both the neophyte enthusiast and the hardened veteran and, as such, gets a 100% ‘Must Have’ approval.



CD: IRVING MILLS and his HOTSY TOTSY GANG, Vol. 1. 24 tracks,  Retrieval RTR79082

Irving Mills was one of the creators of the popular music industry in the USA, a man of multiple talents: song-plugger, singer, lyricist, music publisher, artists’ manager and, of obvious importance to the record collector and jazz lover, organizer of some of the best recorded hot music in the decade of the mid-20s to mid-30s. He and his brother Jack founded the publishing company that became Mills Music in 1926 and went on to become the biggest independent music company in the world. He was one of the first people to see the talent and potential of black composers and musicians, and signed up a great number of them – a market that other white music publishers largely ignored at that time. As he remarked, ““A dollar don’t care where it’s from, whether it’s black [or] green,” and he built up not just an enviable song-list but also a roster of some of the finest black artists of the period, including Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway.


  The standard histories (including the liner notes here) have it that he was born Isadore Minsky in 1894 into that hotbed of Jewish poverty, industry and creativity, New York’s Lower East Side – though there’s other evidence, from the US Census returns, that his father only immigrated in 1896 and that both the Minsky boys were actually born in Odessa, Ukraine. Whichever, the key factor was that Minsky senior died of TB when Irving was just 11, forcing him and brother Jack to earn a living as best they could doing odd jobs anywhere and everywhere. Like so many other Jews in the first decades of the 20th century, they were drawn to the booming music industry. By the time the Hotsy Totsy Gang sessions for Brunswick began in mid-1928, Irving Mills would have been a familiar figure to most recording company executives, not least because of his success in persuading several of them to sign up Duke Ellington – whilst simultaneously letting him make records for just about every other label going. But Mills’ own recordings, under his own name or a slew of fairly obvious pseudonyms, were almost exclusively with white musicians until he launched the Blue Rhythm Band sessions in 1931.


  Most of the tracks on this CD will be familiar to many collectors: the original American Brunswicks are not that uncommon. However, several sessions produced -G (‘for Germany’) takes, which are much harder to find and much less well-known. All of these from the period covered here - July 1928 to September 1929 -  are on this CD, plus a hitherto unlisted test of Futuristic Rhythm.


  The core personnel for the first dozen tracks (and a good many others made at the same period for labels other than Brunswick) is drawn from the Ben Pollack Orchestra, with which Mills had apparently an arrangement to provide the hotter element for his recording activities. Pollack was under contract to Victor at this point, but the opportunity to freelance and play more jazz than Victor would allow on its records, was no doubt too good to pass up. Certainly, these sessions produced the best jazz by Pollack’s men, the personnel of which included some of the top names in New York, amongst them Jimmy McPartland, Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden and Fud Livingston. Pollack himself is drummer on the first six titles, but several non-Pollack men are present, including Eddie Lang on guitar on the first session. Dudley Fosdick is listed on mellophone, replacing the trombone played by Glenn Miller in the Pollack unit, though the short solos in the final chorus of Doin’ The New Low-Down seem to me much more like a trombone in its upper register, especially on the non-vocal -G take, with its slurs and rapid slide work: it even sounds like Miller! The vocal is replaced on the -G take with a piano duet: Vic Breidis plus A.N. Other, possibly Fud Livingston. In fact, this has the feel of three hands on one keyboard rather than a genuine duet.


  The vocalist on both Low-Down and Digga Digga Do (spelling as per the original labels) is a young, but very swinging Elisabeth Welch; the -G take again replaces the vocal with an instrumental chorus, though Welch interjects the ‘Digga-Digga-Do’ refrain in each quatrain. There’s very clearly a second cornet on this title - the notes suggest Bill Moore – who also takes a part solo on Don’t Mess Around With Me, both takes of which are presented here: on the ‘other’ take (the rare one, but who knows which is -A or -B?), this is played with a cup mute and definitely sounds like Moore.


  The second session, in October 1928, produced three more fine sides in Dardanella, I Couldn’t If I Wanted To and Since You Went Away, with Pollack’s regular front line of McPartland, Al Harris, Teagarden and Benny Goodman. Teagarden is the star soloist on the second title, on which Mills shows his vocal abilities to good effect, rather less so on the third, but McPartland takes a fine Bix-inspired solo here. As mentioned above, two takes of Futuristic Rhythm, from the January 1929 session, come next. With excellent solo work from Teagarden, Goodman and a double helping of McPartland on the non-vocal -G take, where he plays the middle-eight in Breidis’ piano solo. Goodman also plays alto-sax instead of clarinet in the following chorus.


  By the time of the session in May 1929, the arrangement with Ben Pollack had obviously ended and the personnel is substantially different, with a front line of Bill Moore and the Dorsey brothers, with a piano-accordion  (Cornell  Smelser), unknown violin and Al Goering on piano. The latter solos well on What a Night!, which also features a trumpet / violin chase – the notes suggest the former is Tommy Dorsey: it certainly doesn’t sound like Moore. The second title from this session, St Louis Blues, is the only one not to have appeared on Brunswick, but only on the cheaper labels from the ARC stable. The piano accordion is much to the fore throughout this side, which slows down markedly after the opening chorus, after which Tommy Dorsey plays a blistering trombone solo.


  The personnel is very different again two months later, with two trumpets – Manny Klein and Phil Napoleon – Miff Mole, and Arnold Brilhart and Larry Binyon (and maybe a third man) on saxes. Some Fun is a fine instrumental side, with excellent solo work from the reeds, Manny Klein giving a good impression of Bix, and Miff Mole is on top form. Can’t We Get Together and Sweet Savannah Sue were featured in Connie’s Hot Chocolates and were recorded in both vocal and non-vocal takes. The vocals on both are by Lilian Morton, who has a pleasant voice; she is replaced on both the German issues by excellent piano solos from Frank Signorelli (?), but the star turn of the second title is Larry Binyon’s booting tenor sax, and it’s interesting to hear Chauncey Morehouse’s brush-work so well recorded, especially behind the piano. This group also accompanies Bill Robinson’s tap-dancing and singing on Ain’t Misbehavin’ and his very different version of Doin’ The New Low-Down. The band doesn’t get much of a look-in on the first title, but there’s some good ensemble work on the second.


  The final session on this CD is from September 1929 and is something of a showcase for Hoagy Carmichael, who composed all three numbers, plays piano and celeste and sings the vocal on the first title, Harvey, on which he also takes a fine piano solo. Klein and Leo McConville fill the trumpet chairs, with Mole on trombone and Jimmy Dorsey, Brilhart and Pee Wee Russell on reeds. They turn in hard-stomping versions of both Harvey and March of the Hoodlums, the latter being taken at a tempo almost as breakneck as Carmichael’s own recording for Gennett. This side is particularly noteworthy for Russell’s tenor-sax solo. Stardust, the final track, swings along beautifully, with a lyrical alto sax statement of the melody from the distinctive-toned Arnold Brilhart and an interesting clarinet / tenor duet following.

  Transfers are by Harry Coster and the sound quality throughout the CD is excellent. At the time of writing, this CD was still in preparation, so this is a preview, in the sense that the liner notes to hand were incomplete and uncorrected, so I apologise in advance if there are errors drawn from them. There remain only 13 further Hotsy Totsy Gang titles, so maybe Volume 2 will also feature some of the many other recordings Mills made of the same numbers with pretty much the same personnel? I look forward to it! 

Max Easterman


2 CD SET :Freddy King & Albert King : Four Classic albums: “Let’s Hide Away and Dance”, “Freddy King Sings”, “Boy-Girl-Boy”, “The Big Blues”. AMSC 1229. Avid Group.

This CD compilation collects:  the two Freddy King’s albums issued in 1961 ( King 762, King 773);  the King, Lulu Reed and Sonny Thompson collaboration (King 777) issued in 1962; and the Albert King set ( King 852) issued in 1963 by Syd Nathan’s  Cincinnati label. These albums, were themselves compilations of material recorded by Freddy for the King subsidiary Federal and in the case of Albert sides he’d recorded for the King label and some  that they’d acquired from  the St. Louis Bobbin label.


  Freddy and Albert King shared more than a record label: they also shared the name of their most important influence – BB King. By the time they made the records gathered here, both Freddy and Albert had absorbed the vocal and guitar stylings of BB King, who’d been a major blues star since 1950, and of T-Bone Walker who was a formative influence on all three of them.


  Originally from Texas, Freddy King forged his performance style in the clubs of Chicago’s South and West Sides alongside the likes of Otis Rush and Magic Sam. Spotted by Sonny Thompson, the King label’s “house pianist” and talent scout, Freddy began a prolific if brief recording career with a huge 1961 instrumental hit Hide Away. This superb, driving dance instrumental, and the equally impressive The Stumble, were covered by, amongst others, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers (featuring Eric Clapton and Peter Green) and made Freddy  a “guitar hero”, thus pointing the way to his later career playing with rock musicians like Leon Russell and touring widely in Europe. Other memorable dance instrumentals followed including the funky San-Ho-Zay and Sen-Sa-Shun a crisp, instrumental reading of Got My Mojo Working.


 Much as I like these records, (for me, they’re bathed in nostalgia - I bought and still have Driving Sideways / Hideaway on Sue WI 349 ), it’s Freddy’s vocal sides that command attention. Supported by the core combo (sometimes augmented by horns) of Sonny Thompson’s fluid piano, the solid bass of Bill Willis and Philip Paul’s drumming, Freddy’s beautiful voice made memorable the great Have You Ever Loved a Woman and its echo I Love That Woman. Some songs like Love Her with a Feeling are clearly derivative of BB. King, as is the ballad If You Believe which lifts the melody and sentiments of BB’s big hit Please Accept My Love. However, Lonesome Whistle and the splendid shuffle I’m Tore Down capture him at his best with his sharp, assertive guitar playing,sometimes echoing, and sometimes contrasting with, his compelling, soulful vocals.


  Between 1960 and 1961, Freddy King had six hits in the R&B charts, but the African-American audience for this kind of blues was declining, and Sonny Thompson and Syd Nathan, always alert to new musical trends (it’s worth noting the King Records first recorded James Brown), paired Freddy King’s soulful voice with that of Sonny Thompson’s wife, Lulu Reed, for a session in 1962.  Five of those six titles feature here Do The Peppermint Twist is an inconsequential pop “period piece”, but It’s Easy Child calls to mind the sort of R&B dance numbers recorded by Ike and Tina Turner. The up tempo, call and response duet You Can’t Hide and Let Your Love Watch Over Me show Reed and Freddy King at their best. The latter song is especially good with Lulu’s great gospel inflected vocal meshing to powerful effect with King’s singing and melodic guitar figures: it’s a blues ballad which, in performance style, points the way to the soul music of the 1960s. The other sides don’t feature Freddy’s vocal but do include a number of Lulu Reed’s splendid proto-soul records including I Got a Notion, What Makes You So Cold and Waste No More Tears. Reed was also a fine blues singer as she demonstrates on the jiving, ironic I’m A Woman (But I Don’t Talk Too Much). Underpinning the musical success of many of these sessions is the work of Sonny Thompson as pianist, session arranger, leader of the house band and writer of items like the great I’m Torn Down. Classically trained but crucially shaped by the playing of Art Tatum and Earl Hines, Thompson and his  studio band, brought to these recordings a  memorable swing  and sophistication.


  Albert King (b.1923) was a generation older than Freddy (b. 1934) but, like him, only came to fame on the King label in the early 1960s. Born Albert Nelson, he sometimes claimed to be BB. King’s cousin but his real relation to him was musical, as  is seen  in his playing and  singing on  I Walked All Night Long and I’ve Made Nights By Myself. However, his first magnificent  1961 hit Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong is both an echo of BB’s style and a transformation of it. Heavy and powerful, Albert’s vocal is paired with an urgent, almost ponderous guitar part which became the template for  the  records  which brought  him widespread fame when he signed for Stax  in 1966. I’ve always loved the jazzy Let’s Have a Natural Ball (recorded for Bobbin in 1960) with its riffing horns and polished singing and playing. Equally enjoyable is I Get Evil, a rhumba beat version of Tampa Red’s Don’t You Lie To Me, which yet again reminds us how influential this now neglected artist was on BB and Albert King, Elmore James and others who shaped the post war blues. Like BB and Freddy King in the early 1960s, Albert also recorded ballads (and doo-wop songs!) in response  to changing audiences and tastes: Had You Told It Like It Was( It Wouldn’t Be Like It Is) is a fine ballad which showcases his  mellow, soulful voice backed by an orchestra and vocal chorus. But it was slow, guitar-led blues like Ooh-Ee Baby and What Can I Do To Change Your Mind that made him in the late 1960s and early 1970s one of the most influential artists in the blues.


  So gathered here in good sound (courtesy of Nick Dellow’s remastering), with the original art work and sleeve notes reproduced in the booklet, but no other commentary or discography,  is a body of music, some of it great, by  two important figures in the history of post war blues. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this fine music again and, with Avid’s bargain prices, I recommend you buy a copy of this cd and enjoy it too.



BOOK: AMERICAN EPIC . By Bernard MacMahon, Allison   McGourty and Elijah Wald. Touchstone-Simon & Schuster. 278pp, hardbound, with many illustrations. ISBN 978-1-5011-3560-6. 

This is the companion book to the joint PBS/BBC three-part TV Series on American roots music.  The series is about how a number of US record companies, thanks to producers like Ralph Peer and Frank Walker, traversed the southern part of the country starting in the mid 1920s, capturing blues, country music, jug bands, hawaiian ensembles, cajun and even native American ensembles. (This series does not cover jazz recording)


  The sub-title of this book and the series is “The First Time America Heard Itself.” Musically-speaking. Until the early 1920s, record companies generally employed the same group of recording people to grind out popular tunes and old favorites which did not leave much room for so-called vernacular music. All that changed in 1920 with the advent of radio. Record sales began deteriorating forcing the companies to look farther afield than Tin Pan Alley to offer music that could not be heard for free (in better sound) over the air. The result was an explosion of blues and country music which, by decade’s end, had formed a significant part of record company catalogs.


  The introductory chapters offer a fascinating glimpse of how companies recorded these artists — showing the venues (offices, old warehouses and hotel ballrooms etc) and the “portable” equipment We also see several pages of Ralph Peer’s session notes from a 1930 Memphis field excursion. The chapter revisits old interviews with Peer and Walker about how they selected the musicians and test marketed the music — basically by playing a test record in a bar and asking reactions.


  The second section, starts with the Memphis Jug Band which reflected both black and white repertoire (and includes some never before published photos) and how their success led to recording other Memphis bluesmen like Furry Lewis, Frank Stokes, Jim Jackson etc.


 The third chapter begins with the historic Bristol, Tennessee session in 1927 that first brought the Carter Family and Jimmy Rodgers onto record — also other extraordinary, if less well-known, artists. From there, the rich vein of religious recordings (Chapter 4) is examined through a search for Elder Burch who made a series of Victor recordings in 1927-8. Chapter 5 takes us to coal country in West Virginia with Dick Justice and the Williamson Brothers.


  Blues from the Mississippi Delta is Chapter  6 with rare photos of a young Son House and interviews with relatives of Charley Patton and blues musicians who remembered him or who had been influenced by him. The Hawaiian section focuses on Joseph Kekeku, who is seen as the inventor of the hawaiian style of playing. His descendants talked about his life and his music Unfortunately Kekeku made only one recorded solo on a Layton & Johnstone Columbia disc during a trip to the UK.


  Native American ensembles  also recorded during the 1920s, largely as educational discs or curiosities. The authors track down the story of the 1926 Victor recording of the Hopi Indian Chanters, which, as it turned out, made tribal elders very unhappy because they are traditionally reluctant to share their culture. (The disc was available into the latter 1940s judging by the labels I have see it on).


  In Texas, Lydia Mendoza was the leading purveyor of a genre now called Tex-Mex  — USA born musicians of Mexican heritage who created a border style all their own. And the final section examines the distinctive cajun music which was first recorded in 1928 and because of their French dialect, only saw limited distribution of their recordings around Louisiana.


 The final section of the book is a photo montage of the authors’ road trips and a preview of the final TV episode in which contemporary artists recreate some of these 1920s sessions using the same recording technology as the record companies employed in the 1920s. More often than not, they get excellent sound that holds up well even after 90 years.


  Recommended by all means



Booklet and CD Review: CRESCENT CITY REEDS: An Essay in Historical and Stylistic Analysis. By Christopher Hillman, with Richard Rains. 78pp, softbound. Chris Hillman Books (2016) Plus 24 tracks on CD.

This is a follow-up to Chris Hillman’s and Richard Rains’ earlier publication, Crescent City Cornet. It covers in great detail the history of the clarinet and saxophone in New Orleans jazz, both in its home city and further abroad. As the authors admit from the off, whilst the traditional view of New Orleans music has been that the clarinet was king, the recorded evidence does not support this: that although the so-called ’classic’ bands, whether black or white, were supposed to have worked with a three-man frontline of cornet / trumpet, trombone and clarinet, this was actually only sometimes the case. Most of the black groups who recorded in the Crescent City (or indeed elsewhere) in the 1920s featured at least one saxophone at some point – and that includes Oliver and Morton, whilst Sam Morgan’s and Oscar Celestin’s bands owed much of their typical sound to the presence of saxophones. Even Johnny Dodds played alto on a couple of recordings and Jimmy Noone preferred on most occasions at the Apex Club to have an alto lead for his clarinet rather than brass. Among the white groups, the NORK were using four reeds by mid-1923 and the ODJB had two by 1920. Almost all those who recorded in New Orleans featured at least one saxophone alongside the clarinet. Indeed, the saxophone has been regarded, or rather disregarded, by purists in much same way as the violin, which appears in many more 1920s bands than they like to admit.


Crescent City Reeds contains a wealth of detail about the men who made the New Orleans sound what it was (and still is – but more of that anon). There are literally dozens of short biographies on their provenance, activities and style, as well as whom they taught or influenced. Sometimes they’re very short, for even the most painstaking research often fails to unearth much information other than the anecdotal. Many of them, of course, never recorded, so the authors are totally reliant on reminiscence to illuminate how they sounded. Some names will be familiar to most of us – the Tios, Baquets, Alphonse Picou, Lawrence Duhé – all part of the jazz legend; but just as many others, such as “Zeb” Lenares, Charlie Gabriel, Edward Baudraud (or Boudreaux) will only be known to dedicated aficionados. And there are others, like Arnett Nelson, a stalwart of the 1930s urban blues scene in Chicago, whom I never even realized hailed from New Orleans.


Much more detailed material is devoted to the more important figures – Dodds, Noone, Bechet, Roppolo (Rapollo is a mis-spelling), Arodin, Parenti and others – as befits their status, and there’s much about them that will fascinate even the cursory reader. The authors then examine the fate of New Orleanians through the Swing era and into the revivalist period, when, of course, a whole raft of previously unrecorded, or under-recorded, names come to the fore, not least George Lewis, Edmond Hall, Pete Duconge, Irving Fazola and Joe Darensbourg, just for starters. There are many, many more of more recent vintage. And this, I think is where this otherwise excellent book starts to become somewhat confusing, both for the researcher as well as general reader. What is attempted is to give both biographical information as well as an historical and stylistic outline in time-line sections, and I don’t think this works: there are too many references back and forth to other sections. The basic divide, for example, in African American players between Creole and Black is clear enough, but the historical development of the two styles is not followed through in a logical way. It might have been simpler to trace the history first, then explain how the names and biographies fit into it. The one gets in the way of the other too often and also tends to obscure the discussion about styles of playing, the detail of which is scattered too widely. There’s a full and very useful appendix of relevant books and recordings, but it would have been helpful to have more direct references in the text to the tracks on the accompanying CD plus an explanation of why these particular ones have been selected. Given that they are offered as a “study aid”, I feel too many of them are of pre-2nd World War material, with only four the post-war period. This leaves the reader-listener somewhat in the dark about more recent performers and developments, unless they go beyond the CD itself. Shellac collectors are too often dismissive about revivalists and the vinyl and CD eras, and this CD might have given them a bit more food for thought and helped dispel their prejudices.


So, from that point of view, I don’t think the current situation in New Orleans, nor of the status of its music, is given enough attention. The monograph makes the sad reflection that “…the great days of the Crescent City’s characteristic modes of clarinet and saxophone playing are now well and truly in the past.” I disagree: I was astonished on my recent visit to New Orleans at the extent to which reed players – clarinetists in particular – were playing true to their musical forebears. The sound of Willie Joseph, who played with Louis Dumaine – is alive and well on the streets of the French Quarter. There’s a whole new generation of men and women performing in and around the city, who are keeping the old styles alive, including the remarkable Craig Flory, clarinettist with Tuba Skinny. None of this is meant to detract from the quality of the authors’ research, nor that of the CD transfers (which are first-class), but rather to suggest that it might have been presented more broadly. There’s terrific stuff here, and great value at the price, but you sometimes have to search too hard to locate what you want.

Max Easterman


BOOK: PRESSED FOR ALL TIME. Producing the Great Jazz Albums from Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday to Miles Davis and Diana Krall. By Michael Jarrett. University of North Carolina Press. 352pp, hardbound.  ISBN-10: 1469630583.

When your erstwhile team of editors took over VJM in 1990, we introduced articles to the trading magazine that Trev Benwell had founded in 1953. One of the first series of articles, which ran for six years, was interviewing jazz record producers under the banner of ‘Silent Partners’ — because they really have made a strong impact on how jazz was/is brought onto record. In the course of our series, we interviewed George Avakian, Bob Porter, Milt Gabler, Frank Driggs, Michael Cuscuna among others for some great insights on all of the economic, corporate and musical factors that go into recording.


  The role of producer has lang been important to jazz recording history. Back in the 1920s, Richard M. Jones assembled a small group of New Orleans musicians with a young, cornet player named Louis Armstrong and labeled the resulting discs “Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five.” The records sold well, but the Hot Five never existed as a working outfit — in other words if you’d transported back to 1926, you could have never seen them live. Same with Tommy Rockwell assembling Bix Beiderbecke and his Gang and, a decade later, John Hammond convening all of those classic Billie Holiday sides with pickup bands.  None of this music existed outside the recording studio and without them, jazz recordings would have sounded much different.


  In this book, the author draws on past interviews published through the years — Gabler, Avakian, Bob Thiele, — to reconstruct the 78 era. But the real savory parts of this book come from Teo Macero, the brilliant mind behind Miles Davis’ 1960s Columbia albums, Dave Brubeck’s landmark Time Out,  Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk’s classic LPs. Macero, a musician in his own right, knew how to draw fresh concepts (like Avakian) and ideas from players whose natural tendency was to repeat their club dates on their recordings.


  Macero delivers insightful comments on how albums were created and the changes (add lawyers and accountants) that also changed dramatically the music that made it onto record.


  Creed Taylor, who produced for Impulse and his own CTI Labels, talks about assembling the right mix of musicians with a brilliant arranger like Oliver Nelson, or — going in the opposite direction (literally), Prestige’s Bob Weinstock’s of mixing incongruous musicians together (Pee Wee Russell  & Buck Clayton for example...) to get something new from both. And the battles: an interesting and amusing story from Bob Johnston who informs (then) Columbia Record’s president Clive Davis that he’d record Louis Armstrong. Davis, who valued hip, demanded to know why. Johnston told him “you are too stupid to even talk to…” and then got fired for doing the session.


  Beyond the producers, we hear from sound engineers (I’d wanted to interview Rudy van Gelder but after a few preliminary conversations, he decided he wanted to save his comments for a book he was going to write… we certainly hope it does get written) like Tom Dowd who describes how Coltrane’s  famed Atlantic sessions came together.


  The author divides the work into era — 78s, the 1950s, the “multi-track era” 1967-1990, then the digital era and how the challenges and technology have included what we hear on jazz recording.


  At the end of the day, the producers’ job is to be a diplomat and psychologist to deal with sidemen who want to be leaders, engineers who hear things differently than they are and record executives who don’t want to be stuck with thousands of unsold discs (or selling too few downloads to make recording expenses).


  The back end of the recording business always fascinated me and this book is great for that because it adds context to what we hear emerging from our woofers and tweeters.


Recommended, of course.



BOOK AND 4-CD SET: DEEP SOUTH : THE STORY OF THE BLUES. By Peter Bolke. 156pp hardbound, plus accompanying 4-CD set. 128 photos/illustrations. earBOOKS. ISBN 9783940004987

On their website, earBOOKS describe themselves as publishers of “sophisticated coffee table books with music” and that is certainly reflected in their production values which the editor highlighted in his review of their “Berlin: Sounds Of An Era, 1920-1950” (VJM 177).


  Beautifully printed, well bound and copiously illustrated, the book and the four CDS (with good sound) I am reviewing purport to tell  “The Story of The Blues” which “emerging from the chants of the slaves in the Southern States… became one of  the most important elements of popular music genres like jazz, rock n’ roll and soul”. It’s the author/compiler’s intention both to illustrate the connection between the blues and “other musical styles” and “to tell the story of this moving music genre from its beginnings until today….and illuminate the most significant forms of blues, its most influential artists“.


  That’s a very tall order and, I’m afraid, not one that the book can hope to meet because the text simply doesn’t reveal a secure command of “blues history”, nor do the chosen musical examples and selection of artists – excellent in themselves though many of them are – amount to a story of the blues. Better rather, to see this set as an exploration of “aspects of the blues” - understood in the widest sense of the phrase - which embrace both Son House’s My Black Mama  and  Dave Brubeck’s Frisco Fog  as well as  Ray Charles’ Losing Hand and Elvis Presley’s That’s All Right Mama. Rather than being a history of the blues, the book’s four chapters offer a commentary of the music heard on the four CDS. 


  The first Chapter, “Rough Sound from the Delta”, deals with the music on CD 01 “Folk/Classic Blues” and this confusing nomenclature indicates a fundamental problem with this project. The CD opens with Mamie Smith’s ground breaking Crazy Blues and is followed by eight “Classic” or “Vaudeville” performances which are not “rough sounds from the delta”. Although southern born, most of these performers – Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Victoria Spivey - honed their acts in the professional world of stage performance: the touring tent shows and theatre /vaudeville venues both north and south. Most of these titles feature fine singers, supported by fine accompanists, as when Tommy Ladnier’s blues trumpet playing echoes Ma Rainey’s vocal line on Southern Blues or Louis Armstrong partners Chippie Hill on her definitive  and well known reading of Richard M. Jones’s Trouble In Mind. By contrast, Alberta Hunter’s Beale Street Blues is really an instrumental version of Handy’s piece played on the organ by Fats Waller to which Hunter adds a brief vocal coda.


  Some of the other tracks here are indeed “sounds from the delta” including: both parts of Son House’s magnificent My Black Mama, Willie Brown’s superb Paramount M and O Blues and Alan Lomax’s 1940 Library of Congress field recording of him playing the traditional Make Me a Pallet On The Floor. Other titles, however, like Blind Lemon Jefferson’s Black Snake Moan and Leadbelly’s thundering account of Fannin’ Street  in Shreveport’s red light district, make the point that the blues was played in many places other than the delta, including Texas, as does Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Santa Fe Blues which the discography dates as a 1947 recording, implying that it is RPM 398, when in fact, what’s offered here is the fine 1959 version with acoustic guitar he recorded for Mack McCormick ( Tradition LP 1040).


  The other artists featured here such as Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Boy Williamson’s very fine Mattie May Blues, Big Joe Williams’ Baby Please Don’t Go and Big Boy Crudup’s That’s All Right (which links directly to Presley’s version on CD 04) all had “delta” connections (if that means being born in Mississippi or in Williamson’s case Tennessee), but  what these records really  illustrate is the blues sound of late 1930s Chicago: a clearer picture of delta blues in the 1930s and 1940s would have been given by the inclusion of Tommy McClennan, Bukka White and Robert Petway.


  Given the emphasis  placed on the “delta” as the cradle of the blues, it’s Inevitable there’s a Robert Johnson record – Cross Road Blues (which  name checks Willie Brown), but the book also gives a full page to the alleged third “Robert Johnson (with Johnny Shines)” photograph captioned “Deal with the Devil?” The fact that this picture, which doesn’t show Johnson or Shines, should be connected with that tired old myth about Johnson selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads sums up my reservations about this book: it trades in popular and often discredited ideas about the blues, its origins, history and importance. That said, there’s no denying the musical quality (or historical importance) of much of the music presented here – the Son House, Willie Brown and Johnson tracks are masterpieces - it’s just unfortunate that it has either been “contextualised” in the romantic terms in which blues was written about in the 1950s and early 1960s, or given a tendentious importance because it affected the course of popular music through the likes of the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and others. 


  The second chapter, “Rockin’ the House”, focuses on the “Piano Blues” (CD-02). Despite including Peetie Wheatstraw’s slow, social commentary These Times, Roosevelt Sykes’ urbane Soft and Mellow and Jimmy Yancey’s spare, melancholy reading of Leroy Carr’s hit How Long Blues, all of which illustrate the common role of the piano accompanying blues singing, this chapter and supporting CD are essentially an exploration of boogie-woogie, that rhythmical style of solo piano  playing which reached its peak of popularity during the late 1930s and World War Two. No less than eight titles feature boogie-woogie’s “big three” - Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson: their surging, trio masterpiece Boogie-Woogie Prayer is a thrilling performance as is Albert Ammons’ incomparable Jump for Joy. A cluster of other records such as Pine Top Smith’s Pine Top’s Boogie-Woogie and Wesley Wallace’s masterly train piece No. 29 are seen as their precursors and this focus on boogie-woogie explains the sometimes eccentric selection of examples  on display, fine though most of them are. Thus, we hear both sides of the obscure Honey Hill’s Brunswick coupling: Boogie-Woogie and Set ‘Em On and I sense that Jesse James’ magnificent Lonesome Day Blues is included primarily because the compiler believes that Cripple Clarence Lofton is the pianist and a boogie-woogie pioneer.  It’s been known for decades that Jesse James played his own piano accompaniment, so it’s odd to find the Lofton identification revived here.  The music presented here is often excellent, like Professor Longhair’s rhumba-influenced Mardi Gras In New Orleans and a strong Memphis Slim and His House Rockers side from the early 1950s (Bad And Lonesome), although the inclusion of two further, rather tepid performances – St. Louis Boogie and Chicago Rent Party Blues - by him stems, it seems to me, not from their musical worth but from the fact that they’re boogies!


  “Jazz & Blues” is the theme of the third chapter which illustrates some of the ways in which the blues both as a musical form and as a mood became an important element in the development of jazz. The accompanying CD 03 “Blue Notes from the Cookbook” showcases eleven tracks some of which I know well, including Armstrong’s epoch-making West End Blues and Thelonious Monk’s modernist treatment of a 12 bar blues, Straight No Chaser. Others, new to me, I’m very pleased to have been introduced to, include Lester Young’s Blue Lester, Coleman Hawkins’ Blue Lights (a lovely  piece with fine piano playing by Hank Jones),and the cool, lucid Blues for Ava by the Tony Scott Quartet. I especially enjoyed Miles Davis’s impeccable Bag’s Groove where the solos by Davis (trumpet), Milt Jackson (vibraphone), and Monk (piano) really do evoke the blues as form and feeling.


  The final chapter “Electric Blues” and CD 04 “Amplified, Young & White” feature some of the most popular post-war blues and R & B artists whose records, to quote the preface, “shook the popular music scene in the early 1960s“. So, ready, steady, go  - here you’ll find  Muddy Waters’ I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man, Elmore James’s Dust My Broom, Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven , B.B. King’s Every Day I Have The Blues and John Lee Hooker’s Dimples, all of which exercised their spell on British “beat” and “R & B” groups who in turn transformed popular music, and in some cases, introduced the blues to white audiences back in the USA.


  Among many memorable photographs in the book is a still of Howlin’ Wolf performing live in 1965 on the US TV programme “Shindig” with the youthful Rolling Stones, who’d got him on the programme, sitting round him on the stage steps. The Wolf title issued here is neither his biggest UK success Smokestack Lightning nor Little Red Rooster which the Stones had taken to the top of the UK Hit Parade in 1964. Instead we have what purports to be his mighty 1954 (misdated to 1955 in the book) recording of Forty-Four (Chess 1584) – but it isn’t!  It’s a live performance which fades out, recorded in Bremen during the American Folk Blues Festival in 1964.  Sadly, carelessness of this kind mars this audio-book on more than one occasion but no more obviously than in the tracking listing for the fourth CD which promises titles by Lightning Hopkins, Albert King, Joe Turner, and Eddie Vinson which aren’t present.  Instead of  the twenty tracks listed in the book’s rudimentary discography, there are fifteen, concluding with John Mayall’s That Good Old Rockin’ Blues from 2009 - a fact you won’t get from the track listing which simply prints“ blindtext” beneath this title!


  With better informed editing and careful proof reading this could have been a useful primer of aspects of the blues, but, as it stands, it has little to offer the knowledgeable enthusiast and would misinform the tyro - which is a pity because the music here, although often familiar, is well worth hearing, the price for a book and 4 CDs is very reasonable, and many of the photographs are evocative of the blues in its varieties and moods. 

Henry Thomas