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This Week on Blues Unlimited - Blues and R&B from Trumpet Records (Hour 2)
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May 23, 2016 08:21 AM PDT
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Join us as we aim the spotlight on one of the most beloved record labels of all time, Trumpet Records, of Jackson, Mississippi. Spearheaded by entrepreneur Lillian McMurry, it helped give rise to the careers of Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, Willie Love, and Jerry "Boogie" McCain. Blues and R&B from Trumpet Records, on this episode of Blues Unlimited.

To hear this episode in its original full-fidelity high quality audio, it may be downloaded from Bandcamp at: http://tinyurl.com/hwrrs2u

To see a short video about Trumpet Records, click here: http://www.msbluestrail.org/films

This Week on Blues Unlimited - Blues and R&B from Trumpet Records (Hour 1)
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May 23, 2016 08:09 AM PDT
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Join us as we aim the spotlight on one of the most beloved record labels of all time, Trumpet Records, of Jackson, Mississippi. Spearheaded by entrepreneur Lillian McMurry, it helped give rise to the careers of Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, Willie Love, and Jerry "Boogie" McCain. Blues and R&B from Trumpet Records, on this episode of Blues Unlimited.

To hear this episode in its original full-fidelity high quality audio, it may be downloaded from Bandcamp at: http://tinyurl.com/hd9cptq

Previously on Blues Unlimited - In The Blues Quarters: Mid '60s Chicago Classics Part 3 (Hour 2)
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May 16, 2016 09:29 AM PDT
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Join us as we profile some mid-1960s Chicago Blues classics. We'll be hearing selections from "Chicago/The Blues/Today!," rare LP-only tracks off of "Blues Southside Chicago" (it was never issued in this country), and some recordings made by Swedish broadcasting legend Olle Helander in May 1964. (Part 3 of 3)

Note: For full description, please see Part 1. To hear this episode in its original full-fidelity high quality audio, it may be downloaded from Bandcamp at: http://tinyurl.com/z5rv5sh

Pictured: The cover for "Blues Southside Chicago," issued only as an LP in the U.K.

Previously on Blues Unlimited - In The Blues Quarters: Mid '60s Chicago Classics Part 3 (Hour 1)
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May 16, 2016 09:14 AM PDT
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Join us as we profile some mid-1960s Chicago Blues classics. We'll be hearing selections from "Chicago/The Blues/Today!," rare LP-only tracks off of "Blues Southside Chicago" (it was never issued in this country), and some recordings made by Swedish broadcasting legend Olle Helander in May 1964. (Part 3 of 3)

Note: For full description, please see Part 1. To hear this episode in its original full-fidelity high quality audio, it may be downloaded from Bandcamp at: http://tinyurl.com/jga35om

Pictured: The cover for "Blues Southside Chicago," issued only as an LP in the U.K.

Previously on Blues Unlimited - In The Blues Quarters: Mid '60s Chicago Classics Part 2 (Hour 2)
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May 09, 2016 08:37 AM PDT
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Join us as we profile some mid-1960s Chicago Blues classics. We'll be hearing selections from "Chicago/The Blues/Today!," rare LP-only tracks off of "Blues Southside Chicago" (it was never issued in this country), and some recordings made by Swedish broadcasting legend Olle Helander in May 1964. (Part 2 of 3)

Pictured: South Side Chicago. Photo by Erik Lindahl.

For the full episode description, please see Part 1. This episode is also available as a high quality download from Bandcamp: http://tinyurl.com/hlo9um2

Previously on Blues Unlimited - In The Blues Quarters: Mid '60s Chicago Classics Part 2 (Hour 1)
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May 09, 2016 07:34 AM PDT
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Join us as we profile some mid-1960s Chicago Blues classics. We'll be hearing selections from "Chicago/The Blues/Today!," rare LP-only tracks off of "Blues Southside Chicago" (it was never issued in this country), and some recordings made by Swedish broadcasting legend Olle Helander in May 1964. (Part 2 of 3)

Pictured: South Side Chicago. Photo by Erik Lindahl.

For the full episode description, please see Part 1. This episode is also available as a high quality download from Bandcamp: http://tinyurl.com/z96ryp7

Previously on Blues Unlimited - In The Blues Quarters: Mid '60s Chicago Classics Part 1 (Hour 2)
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May 02, 2016 08:40 AM PDT
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In the waning days of 1965, noted author and scholar Sam Charters, along with his wife Ann, had been so caught up in the flurry of activity involved with producing a series of Blues recordings for the Vanguard label, that when they entered a little café looking to have a late breakfast one blistery morning, they hadn't even realized it was Christmas Day.

Although they ended up having a good laugh about it, what they didn't realize is that the subsequent LPs that came out the following year would go on to be something of a defining, high water mark in the history of Chicago Blues. Three LPs, each sporting the work of three different musicians from the Windy City — all of them entitled “Chicago/The Blues/Today!” With just a few tracks on each album designed to give the artists a chance to shine just a little bit — that's exactly what they did, by the way — it gave much needed boosts to already promising careers, and in other cases, ended up giving some of them the opportunity to start out fresh after their careers had become sidetracked years earlier.

As for the recordings on “Blues Southside Chicago,” it too presented a cross-section of working musicians in the Windy City at the time, with such artists as Sunnyland Slim, Eddie Boyd, Johnny Young, Homesick James, Walter Horton, Poor Bob Woodfork, and Robert Nighthawk appearing for a few tantalizing moments each. The tapes later wound up in England, where they were issued by the good folks at Decca, with liner notes written by Mike Leadbitter. Another reissue on the Flyright label a dozen years later was basically it — the tracks were never slated for release in America, and as far as we know, never made the transition to the digital age.

Last, but certainly by no means least, is the work of Swedish broadcasting legend Olle Helander (roughly: uhl-lah hel-AHN-dur). He was born in Sweden in 1919, and became a serious admirer of Jazz and Blues from an early age. In 1947, he authored his first book on the subject, “Jazzens Väg” (“The Road of Jazz”), which became the first Swedish language work on the subject. Starting in the late 1940s, Helander began sharing his love and knowledge of the music over the Swedish airwaves, with a series of regular Jazz programs. In 1961, he made a trip to the U.S., spending several months hearing and interviewing musicians from New York to Los Angeles. In May 1964, he came back with a hand-picked sound engineer, Hans Westman, determined to make a documentary record of the music. Later, when he returned with a hundred recordings by more than a dozen different musicians, it became the basis for a ground-breaking 21 part documentary series on Swedish Radio called “I Blueskvarter,” or simply, “In The Blues Quarters.”

Partly by design, Helander set out not to record the big names of the blues — people like B.B. King or Muddy Waters — but rather, the overlooked and the forgotten: elder statesmen who hadn’t recorded in a while, or in some cases, a few fresh new faces just starting out. Once in Chicago, he set up shop at the Sutherland Lounge on Drexel Avenue, and word quickly got out that blues musicians could come and record and make a few bucks.

As for the Swedish public, Helander's documentary radio series became the stuff of legend. For some listeners, it was the clarion call that led to a life-long interest in this strange and fascinating music — as one listener put it, after hearing Walter Horton's amplified harmonica playing for the very first time, he shook his head in disbelief, thinking that it wasn't possible for a harmonica to sound like that. Tapes of the radio shows circulated amongst collectors for years, while three subsequent repeat broadcasts made it one of the most requested shows in Swedish broadcasting history. The tapes essentially lay dormant in the vaults for almost 35 years, before a proper reissue program finally gave them the recognition they so richly deserved, starting in 1999.

It is the driving passion and love for the music that led people like Willie Dixon, Sam Charters and Olle Helander to make these recordings, and as we dive head first into the “Blues Quarters” of the mid-1960s Chicago Blues — the first of a three part series — we can only offer our sincere and undying gratitude to them.

Pictured: The cover from "Chicago/The Blues/Today!", featuring Ann Charters' iconic photo of winter snow on the El tracks.

This episode is also available as a high quality digital download from Bandcamp: http://tinyurl.com/gqt7ffh

Previously on Blues Unlimited - In The Blues Quarters: Mid '60s Chicago Classics Part 1 (Hour 1)
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May 02, 2016 08:33 AM PDT
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Join us as we profile some mid-1960s Chicago Blues classics. We'll be hearing selections from "Chicago/The Blues/Today!," rare LP-only tracks off of "Blues Southside Chicago" (it was never issued in this country), and some recordings made by Swedish broadcasting legend Olle Helander in May 1964. (Part 1 of 3)

Pictured: The cover from "Chicago/The Blues/Today!", featuring Ann Charters' iconic photo of winter snow on the El tracks.

This episode is also available as a high quality digital download from Bandcamp: http://tinyurl.com/j4x7zqj

Previously on Blues Unlimited - George Barnes & the Early Electric Guitar Heroes (Hour 2)
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April 25, 2016 08:21 AM PDT
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One of the first people to use an electric guitar on a blues record was a 16 year-old kid from the suburbs of Chicago. The incredible true story of George Barnes, and the early heroes of electric guitar, on this episode of Blues Unlimited.

Pictured: George Barnes, in his early days.

This episode is also available in a high quality digital download from Bandcamp at: http://tinyurl.com/zzdja4b

Previously on Blues Unlimited - George Barnes & the Early Electric Guitar Heroes (Hour 1)
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April 25, 2016 08:13 AM PDT
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It's almost like something from a rejected plot line for another sequel to “Back To The Future,” or some other time-traveling Hollywood flop: a 16 year old kid from the suburbs of Chicago, admiring Django Rheinhardt, Louis Armstrong, and Jimmy Noone, grows up in a musical family, makes his recording debut at the age of 15, and then returns to the studio 18 months later, in March 1938, to lay down some of the first electric guitar licks on wax — behind a group of seasoned Blues veterans — who, by the end of the day, can be heard exhorting him to "Pick it, Mister Man!" during almost every one of his solos.

Incredibly, this isn't from a Hollywood script or a cheesy "movie of the week" TV special. It's the unlikely true story of George Barnes, a musical prodigy born in the suburbs of Chicago in July 1921, who claimed he was playing an electric guitar at the age of 10, had joined the musicians union when he was 12, and had formed his own quartet at the ripe old age of 14. Although his main influence was clarinet blower Jimmy Noone, who had, interestingly enough, started on guitar as a kid, it was blues legend Lonnie Johnson who apparently took him under his wing and showed him a few pointers. But even early on, young George had some ideas of his own, stating that he didn't want to sit in the back of the bandstand and play rhythm, he wanted to play lead. And an opportunity to make records with some blues legends, in the spring and summer of 1938, was the perfect vehicle for proving he could do just that.

His first recordings with an electric guitar — at least as far as we know, anyway — came behind Big Bill Broonzy on March 1, 1938. Accompanying him that day was someone with whom he would become fast friends, Chicago keyboard man Blind John Davis (it very well could have been Davis who lined him up for the gig — at this point, we really don't know). In a recent turn of events, the Chicago musicians union had just opened their doors a little wider, making room for Blues and Jazz musicians to join. Big Bill, in typical fashion, apparently saw no reason to rush over and enlist, and as a result, had to put his guitar aside on this session date, becoming just a vocalist for the occasion (oddly enough, singers were not required to be a member of the union; only musicians were).

Just about two weeks later, on March 14th, 1938, George had a big day in the studio, first playing behind Washboard Sam, then Jazz Gillum, and lastly, singer Lorraine Walton. It's fascinating to hear things progress, as George, at first, limits himself to some rather tasteful solos behind Washboard Sam, only to warm up tremendously by the time Gillum and Walton stepped up to the microphone. It must have made for an unlikely sight in the studio that day — Gillum, who at times could rifle off some truly bone-chilling lyrics, and by all accounts had the demeanor of a crusty, seasoned blues veteran, and George Barnes — a kid from the suburbs, still four months shy of his 17th birthday. Nonetheless, they shared a few inspired moments together, with George playing some meandering runs throughout, as well as taking multiple solos, all encouraged by an enthusiastic Gillum, who throws some top notch harmonica blowing into the mix. By the time Lorraine Walton took her turn, probably a nightclub singer who was spotted by Chicago music boss Lester Melrose or one of his talent scouts, Blind John Davis and his younger guitar-playing buddy were in fine form, with excited responses from Walton encouraging them on.

It's not too surprising then, that Barnes got called back for further Blues sessions in 1938. By the time 1939 rolled around, however, he had mostly moved on. Signing with NBC radio in Chicago, he became the youngest music conductor and arranger they'd ever had. Not only was the pay decent enough, but the environment — compared to the smoky bars he was used to playing in — much better for a 17 year old kid.

After being drafted for service in World War II, Barnes returned home and resumed his prolific musical career. By his own estimation, he recorded scores of albums, and participated in hundreds, if not thousands, of recording sessions. While we can’t be too sure about the reliability of those numbers, all we can say, is that before his death at the age of 56 in 1977, he secured for himself a unique place in blues history — as one of the first people to record with an electric guitar. Not too bad for a teenage kid from the suburbs of Chicago.

P.S.: As for some of the other musicians who were noted for being early adopters of the electric guitar on their blues records, be sure to look for a special segment towards the end of the first hour.

Special thanks to Scott Dirks, and also especially to Dave Penny for help and invaluable assistance with this episode.

Pictured: George Barnes, in his early days.

This episode is also available in a high quality digital download from Bandcamp at: http://tinyurl.com/zyau7ah

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