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(It Was) Really! The Country Blues (That) Fell This Morning: LP Classics from the Birth of the Blues Revival, Hour 2
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September 18, 2014 08:45 AM PDT
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Well, blues lovers... here's an extra episode to tide you over. We'll be taking a couple weeks off to deal with some family health matters. We've got lots more great stuff on tap for you when we get back -- with a new episode coming your way in about two weeks. In the meantime, in the immortal words of Woody Guthrie, remember to "Take it easy... but take it." Yours in the blues --SBH

If you're curious about where the Blues Revival of the 1960s got its start, you might want to take a look at "The Country Blues," from 1959, "Blues Fell This Morning," from 1960, and "Really! The Country Blues," from 1962. It's three classic slabs of vinyl from the very advent of the Blues Revival — on this episode of Blues Unlimited.

Pictured: Following closely on the heels of "The Country Blues," was Paul Oliver's "Blues Fell This Morning." Due to a quirk of history -- a printer's strike in England at the time -- it would have been the world's first blues book. Instead, it's publication was delayed until 1960.

(It Was) Really! The Country Blues (That) Fell This Morning: LP Classics from the Birth of the Blues Revival, Hour 1
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September 18, 2014 08:18 AM PDT
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If you're curious about where the Blues Revival of the 1960s got its start, you might want to take a look at "The Country Blues," from 1959, "Blues Fell This Morning," from 1960, and "Really! The Country Blues," from 1962. While the first two were designed as audio companions to groundbreaking books of the same name — by Sam Charters and Paul Oliver, respectively — the third one, from Origin Jazz Library, was conceived, apparently, as a deliberate act of "one upmanship" over Sam Charters (Pete Whelan, one of the founders of OJL, later complained that the country blues Charters had written about hadn't quite been "real enough"). Each of them, in their own way, were highly influential when they came out — and in no small part, helped to spark the Blues Revival of the 1960s. Join us then, as we celebrate three classic slabs of vinyl from the very advent of the Blues Revival — on this episode of Blues Unlimited.

Pictured: Issued 1959, "The Country Blues" was a groundbreaking work by Sam Charters. The next year, Paul Oliver followed with "Blues Fell This Morning."

Throwback Thursdays - Deep Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Son House, Hour 2
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September 18, 2014 07:48 AM PDT
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Son House may very well have been the greatest Blues singer that ever lived. Mind you, there was nothing fancy or complicated about his music or his guitar playing. But coming, as it did, from the very heart of the Delta, there is something about his music that is irreducible. It is such a part and parcel of the very essence of what we call the Mississippi Delta Blues, that it is hard to imagine anyone breaking it down into pieces more fundamental or elemental than what Son House brought to the table. You wouldn’t necessarily point to his music and say, “There’s a good example of what Delta Blues sounds like.” His music is the Delta Blues, and he, in turn, is the very essence of what the Blues is all about.

A former preacher and farmer who spent some time at Parchman Farm, Son House was born in the early days of the 20th century, and took up guitar relatively late in life. It was, in fact, the push and pull between the earthly desires of his physical being, juxtaposed against the soul’s yearning for redemption that largely informs his music. For instance, in the early days, he was known to sing the Blues all night long in a juke joint on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning, wipe the beer bottles off of a table, get up on it and start preaching a hellfire and brimstone sermon. After he was done, according to legend, he would get down off the table, and he and his musical partner Willie Brown would go right back on playing the Blues for the hungover -- and we can only imagine somewhat startled -- patrons.

He made his debut recording session in the summer of 1930 for Paramount Records, but thanks to the Great Depression, they pretty much went nowhere. Out of the four issued 78s, two of them are so rare that only one copy of each is known to exist. One of them was found lying on the floor of an abandoned home in rural Virginia, while the other one didn’t turn up until 2005 -- some 75 years after the fact! Of the other two, only a few copies of each are known to exist.

In 1941, Alan Lomax came knocking on behalf of the Library of Congress, and further sessions were held -- this time, with one of the most exciting groups of Delta musicians ever assembled -- Son House on guitar and vocals, Leroy Williams on harmonica, Fiddlin’ Joe Martin on mandolin, and the legendary Willie Brown on second guitar. Sadly, Lomax had to pack up his equipment after recording only a few numbers, thanks to interference from the local authorities who put a stop to the proceedings. The few numbers that Lomax did capture, however, are priceless.

Alan Lomax came around again in 1942, recording further numbers with Son House, this time just solo. One of the standout pieces was a version of “Jinx Blues,” a tune associated with his musical partners Charley Patton and Willie Brown.

Sometime after this, he relocated to Rochester, New York, where he worked as a chef, and also as a porter on the New York Central Railroad. In 1964, three young Blues enthusiasts -- Nick Perls, Phil Spiro, and Dick Waterman -- came knocking on his door after a journey involving some 16 states and 4,000 miles. He no longer owned a guitar, however, and wasn’t sure he could sing again. Alan Wilson, later to go onto fame and recognition with Canned Heat, was employed to help Son “relearn” his music. Son, apparently, appreciated the help and support that the young man gave him. When they played together, Wilson was never showy or flashy, only complementing what Son was already playing. And others observed that Alan’s presence had a calming effect on Son when he was with him -- perhaps due to the fact that when he wasn't playing his beloved steel-bodied National guitar, his hands trembled.

People who saw him live in concert tell stories about him going to another place -- essentially leaving the building -- during his intense, extended pieces -- with everyone drained and exhausted at the end of each show. Quite frankly, they wondered how he was able to pour every ounce of his energy, every part of his being, so totally into his music. And yet he did, time and time again. Thankfully, footage from that era has survived, and it gives us an ever so brief glimpse in to the sheer power and passion of his live performances.

His last “great” public appearance came in the summer of 1970, in London. It was supposed to be his final European tour prior to a proposed retirement. However, retirement didn’t really come for another five years. His last recordings were made in April 1975, and are housed at an archive at Indiana University, remaining unissued. He died some 13 years later, in October 1988, at the age of 86.

In a 1970 interview, John Lennon offered this observation -- that the Blues were a chair. He said:

“[The Blues] are not a design for a chair, or a better chair... it is the first chair. It is a chair for sitting on, not chairs for looking at or being appreciated. You sit on that music.”

Although John had the right idea, he may have missed the mark just slightly when choosing his metaphor. The Blues aren’t so much a chair, as they are, perhaps, a house.

Or in this case, Son House.

It goes without saying that Blues singers like Son House only come along once. And fortunately for us, we have his incredible body of recorded work that lives on. Join us then, as we celebrate the life and music of one of the greatest Blue singers that ever lived.

Pictured: Son House at the July 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Image by: John Rudoff, M.D.

Throwback Thursdays - Deep Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Son House, Hour 1
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September 18, 2014 07:14 AM PDT
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For a lot of reasons, many of them personal, perhaps, this one ranks as one of the most favorite episodes we ever did. It also received a tremendous amount of comments and kudos, with many listeners saying the same thing. And while the greatness of Son House pretty much goes without saying, a couple of words are in order about his manager, Dick Waterman -- a man who is universally regarded as the dictionary definition of the word "integrity" -- and who shepherded and spearheaded Son's "rediscovery" period career. Recently, upon viewing the photo you see here -- after Son had just finished his last ever public appearance, Mr. Waterman was moved to comment something along the lines of, "I don't know why all these old blues musicians trusted me so. I was just a young guy at the time." All we can say by way of response, is that Dick Waterman is one of those "old souls" people mention from time to time. And an old soul like Son House always recognizes another old soul when they see one.

So, here it is. The Life and Music of Son House. We'll leave this one up a bit longer. And as always, we hope you enjoy it.... --SBH

Pictured: Son House and Dick Waterman, taken after Son House's very last public appearance (if I remember correctly, in Toronto, Canada).

Legends of Bluesville, Part 3: West Coast Blues & Folk, Hour 2
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September 18, 2014 06:54 AM PDT
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Join us as we continue our look at the legends of Bluesville, this time from the West Coast. That includes music from piano man Mercy Dee Walton, harmonica blower Sidney Maiden, guitarist K.C. Douglas, and one-man-band, Jesse Fuller. It's the legends of Bluesville, on this episode of Blues Unlimited.

Pictured: Another standout from the Bluesville catalog, "Trouble An' Blues," by Sidney Maiden.

Legends of Bluesville, Part 3: West Coast Blues & Folk, Hour 1
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September 18, 2014 06:28 AM PDT
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Although Mercy Dee Walton, Sidney Maiden, and K.C. Douglas all recorded LPs for the Bluesville label (Douglas had two, in fact), for this West Coast edition of the "Legends of Bluesville," we had to bend the rules just a bit for Jesse Fuller, who recorded two LPs for Bluesville's sister imprint Prestige, and three for the Good Time Jazz label. These days, Good Time Jazz, Prestige, and Bluesville all fall under the umbrella of Fantasy Records, having been purchased eons ago — so, perhaps it's all a moot point anyway. In any event, we've got an exciting and innovative group of musicians lined up for the program, including the much celebrated one-man-band, Jesse Fuller.

His nickname was "The Lone Cat," and he certainly cut a formidable figure, playing the 12-string guitar, harmonica, kazoo, hi-hat, and his homemade foot-operated bass contraption, the "Fotdella" — all at the same time. On the label of his Good Time Jazz 45's — just in case anyone in the listening audience was skeptical — it bore this fascinating disclaimer: "Jesse Fuller sings and accompanies himself simultaneously on bass, drums, 12-string guitar, harmonica and kazoo. You hear him in actual performance. No over-dubbing or electronic tricks were used to make this unbelievable recording." Jesse Fuller's big hit, of course, was "San Francisco Bay Blues," which he recorded a number of times, and we might add — spent a LOT of time on the turntables of folk and blues enthusiasts in the 1950s and '60s.

K.C. Douglas had roots going back to Mississippi; he could lay claim to no less a mentor than the great Tommy Johnson, with whom he played in the 1940s. Sidney Maiden hailed from Louisiana, while Mercy Dee was part of the deep and proud tradition of Texas Piano Blues. Eventually, they all made their way to California — Mercy Dee describes this experience vividly in his magnum opus, "Mercy's Troubles" — where they all made their recording debut in the late 1940s.

Sadly, Mercy Dee passed away not too long after cutting "Pity And A Shame," his LP for Bluesville. It's not hard to imagine what a big hit he would have been on the Blues Revival circuit, charming audiences with his keen sense of irony and acerbic wit. K.C. Douglas lived on until the mid 1970s, cutting further sides for Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie label (it had, in fact, been Strachwitz that recorded these three gentleman for Bluesville. A small portion of the material that Bluesville did not end up using at the time later saw issue on Arhoolie, thankfully — some of which we've utilized here). As for Sidney Maiden, he reportedly married a young bride, and spent time between Fresno, California, and Arizona, where he presumably died in the late 1980s.

As for Jesse Fuller, well, all we can say is that they definitely broke the mold when they made him. Not since his passing, in 1976, has anyone been able to match his enthusiastic singing and playing, or the ease with which he simultaneously mastered a small cadre of instruments.

Although our list of artists ended up being a fairly short one for this installment of our "Legends of Bluesville" series, we hope you enjoy the diverse talent on offer from this celebrated and much beloved group of musicians — all of whom made an indelible and lasting mark on the Blues world.

Pictured: One Man Band, Jesse Fuller.

Instrumental Madness: Classic Grooves & Hot Rockers from King & Federal Records (Hour 2)
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September 09, 2014 08:30 AM PDT
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Join us for an all-instrumental extravaganza, as we put the spotlight on King and Federal Records. While other labels certainly recorded instrumentals, it was King who made them into an institution. We’ll hear from Bill Doggett, Freddy King, Pete "Guitar" Lewis, Jimmy Nolen, King Curtis, Ike Turner, and a whole lot more. It’s King and Federal instrumentals, on this episode of Blues Unlimited.

Pictured: Bill Doggett, whose game-changing "Honky Tonk" spent 13 weeks at the very top of the Billboard charts.

Instrumental Madness: Classic Grooves & Hot Rockers from King & Federal Records (Hour 1)
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September 09, 2014 08:07 AM PDT
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Join us for an all-instrumental extravaganza, as we put the spotlight on King and Federal Records. While other labels certainly recorded instrumentals, it was King who made them into an institution. We’ll hear from Bill Doggett, Freddy King, Pete "Guitar" Lewis, Jimmy Nolen, King Curtis, Ike Turner, and a whole lot more. It’s King and Federal instrumentals, on this episode of Blues Unlimited.

Pictured: One of the driving behind-the-scenes forces at King Records, pianist, bandleader, and A&R man, Sonny Thompson.

Alan Lomax in the Hill Country of Mississippi (Hour 2)
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September 01, 2014 01:54 PM PDT
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On this episode of Blues Unlimited, we reconstruct one of Alan Lomax's greatest field trips. In a lengthy and quite distinguished career that involved thousands upon thousands of recordings, our opinion is that, quite simply, "it doesn't get much better than this." When Alan Lomax and his assistant, a 19 year-old Shirley Collins, first rolled into the community of Como, Mississippi, in September 1959, he not only brought with him modern stereo recording equipment, but he also sought out a wide variety of performers and musicians to capture on tape — including fife and drum band music, guitar and fiddle duets, children's nursery rhymes, dynamic and powerful gospel singing from a nearby church in Tyro, Mississippi, and last but certainly not least — Fred McDowell's very first recordings.

Along this magical journey, we'll also slip into our time machine and make another brief detour back to 1942 — when Alan Lomax first recorded legendary Hill Country multi-instrumentalist, Sid Hemphill. Among others, the occasion marked the first time that Mississippi fife and drum band music was ever captured for the sake of posterity, and it seems only fitting that Lomax and Hemphill would find each other again some 17 years later, in 1959.

So, join us as we re-assemble this historic journey through Como, Senatobia, and Tyro, Mississippi, in September 1959 — in roughly chronological order — giving us a glimpse of what it was like to have been alongside one of the great folklorists and song catchers of the 20th century, as the magic of Mississippi Hill Country unfolds right before our very ears.

Pictured: Two legendary Hill Country musicians, Sid Hemphill and Lucius Smith. Illustration by Archer Pruitt.

Alan Lomax in the Hill Country of Mississippi (Hour 1)
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September 01, 2014 01:29 PM PDT
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Join us as we follow Alan Lomax through the Hill Country of Mississippi, in September 1959. We’ll hear some exciting fife and drum band music, old fiddle tunes, inspired gospel singing, and Fred McDowell’s very first recordings. It's magic from the Hill Country of Mississippi, on this episode of Blues Unlimited.

Pictured: The one and only Mississippi Fred McDowell.

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