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Lowdown Windy City Harmonica Jam (Hour 1)
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June 14, 2017 10:20 AM PDT
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A while back, we did a show called "Lowdown Memphis Harmonica Jam ," inspired by a terrific LP on the Nighthawk label with the same name. The idea for this show was pretty similar, in that we wanted to spotlight some overlooked gems and rare items from the annals of Chicago Blues Harmonica (just as the Nighthawk LP had done for Memphis), all the while showcasing some outstanding performances. To that extent, we'll be hearing some rare outtakes from Little Walter, a handful of performances by Alfred "Blues King" Harris — an overlooked figure on the Chicago scene — as was Birmingham Junior and His Lover Boys. Little Willie Foster and Dusty Brown are also featured — both of them cut for Blue Lake and Parrot, incidentally — and we'll also hear from Louis Myers, who we often think of primarily as a guitarist, but whose harmonica chops were actually quite developed, thanks to his time spent playing guitar behind Little Walter. Finally, we'll also hear from Kid Thomas, who normally gets associated with the west coast, but whose 1957 debut session for Federal Records occurred in the Windy City.... and what a fine session it was, too!

Even if the good folks at Nighthawk Records never did issue an LP by the name of "Lowdown Windy City Harmonica Jam," we'd like to think that if they had, some of the performances on tonight's episode would have been featured items. So, join us for some lowdown jams, rare items, and overlooked gems from some of the best harmonica players to come out of the Windy City.

Don't forget to install the PodOmatic Podcast Player app for iOS so you can listen to Sleepy Boy Hawkins wherever you go! Details at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/podomatic/id648258566?mt=8

A Legend Every Night: Blues from Antone's (Hour 2)
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June 13, 2017 01:03 PM PDT
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If you wanted to go see a Blues Legend live on stage every night, where would you go? Well, according to Clifford Antone, between 1975 and 1985, there was no better place than his very own eponymous night club, Antone's.

Founded in 1975 by Clifford Antone and Angela Strehli, Antone’s, located in the heart of Austin, Texas, became one of the preeminent spots to go see live Blues — especially after a veritable "Who's Who" of Chicago veterans made the trek down south and found a new outlet — not to mention an adoring and appreciative audience — for their music. Clifford Antone’s philosophy was quite simply really. He once stated that he and his buddies wanted to hear some Blues, so why not bring the musicians to them rather than the other way around. It was a strategy that ultimately paid off, and one that helped put Austin on the map as an important city for live music. Although things were sometimes shaky at first — one story involves Sunnyland Slim, Big Walter Horton, and Eddie Taylor playing to an audience of about 5 people one night — through perseverance, the night club became a famous — if not infamous at times — home away from home for many blues legends during the twilight days of their careers (other stories involve a seemingly endless game of poker between some of the musicians that apparently had no discernible start or end to it, while someone else told a story about how Buddy Guy would come in every night that Jimmy Rogers or B.B. King were playing in the club, and sit up front, watching their every move — explaining that when he was growing up, those guy were "his heroes").

Thanks in part to Clifford's generous spirit, it seemed that the good times at Antone’s would sometimes never end. Sadly, that was not to be the case. In May 2006, Clifford Antone's body was found at his home in Austin, Texas. The club had recently celebrated it’s 30th anniversary, and he was just 56. Today, however, Antone’s is still going strong down in Austin Texas, and still carries the name of it’s co-founder, whose love for this genuine American Art Form it still bears witness.

To hear this episode in its original full-fidelity high quality audio, it may be downloaded from Bandcamp at: http://tinyurl.com/y9fo78ck

Don't forget to install the PodOmatic Podcast Player app for iOS so you can listen to Sleepy Boy Hawkins wherever you go! Details at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/podomatic/id648258566?mt=8

A Legend Every Night: Blues from Antone's (Hour 1)
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June 13, 2017 09:06 AM PDT
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On this episode of Blues Unlimited, a tribute to Antone’s night club. Founded in 1975 in Austin, Texas, it featured a who’s who of blues legends, live and on stage. Twelve years later, Antone’s also started a record label, capturing some of those memorable moments on tape. It's a "Who’s Who" of blues legends — live from Antone’s — 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/y8w4xpvr

Don't forget to install the PodOmatic Podcast Player app for iOS so you can listen to Sleepy Boy Hawkins wherever you go! Details at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/podomatic/id648258566?mt=8

Uncle Sam Called Me: The Blues and War (Hour 2)
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June 06, 2017 07:52 AM PDT
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Join us as we dig into a collection of blues songs all dealing with the topic of war. Featuring commentary, insight, and criticism on Vietnam, Korea, and World War Two, we’ll hear classics from Doctor Clayton, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, Lightnin’ Hopkins, J.B. Lenoir, Junior Wells, and many more. The blues goes to war, 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/ycbmcs73

Don't forget to install the PodOmatic Podcast Player app for iOS so you can listen to Sleepy Boy Hawkins wherever you go! Details at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/podomatic/id648258566?mt=8

Uncle Sam Called Me: The Blues and War (Hour 1)
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June 06, 2017 07:45 AM PDT
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Join us as we dig into a collection of blues songs all dealing with the topic of war. Featuring commentary, insight, and criticism on Vietnam, Korea, and World War Two, we’ll hear classics from Doctor Clayton, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, Lightnin’ Hopkins, J.B. Lenoir, Junior Wells, and many more. The blues goes to war, 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/y7vdaqeq

Don't forget to install the PodOmatic Podcast Player app for iOS so you can listen to Sleepy Boy Hawkins wherever you go! Details at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/podomatic/id648258566?mt=8

Down South Summit Meeting (Hour 2)
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May 30, 2017 10:15 AM PDT
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The gathering of four giants of the blues into one recording studio isn't something that happens very often, if it all. Then take into account that each major geographical region of the blues was represented by those four individuals, and the odds of it happening even once get exponentially smaller. But that's exactly what happened on July 6th, 1960, when Lightnin' Hopkins (from Texas), Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee (representing the East Coast Piedmont tradition), and Big Joe Williams (the Mississippi Delta) were all brought together in a Los Angeles studio to record an album, Down South Summit Meetin'.

It was an opportunity of sheer fate -- Sonny and Brownie were finishing up an engagement at the Ash Grove, and Big Joe Williams, an intrepid wanderer, was there to take over for them. Lightnin' Hopkins, who rarely enjoyed leaving the confines of his beloved Houston, was passing through town on his way to a music festival. Rehearsals were held one evening, and studio time was booked the following day. And while you would think that blues artists from three very different genres would have trouble connecting with one another musically, actually, quite the opposite happened. Something clicked, and after a few uneasy moments and a few missed guitar chords here and there, the musical magic that the four of them made was captured on tape, with a fine LP resulting.

After completing six titles that make up Down South Summit Meetin' on the World Pacific label, further recordings were made, but quite curiously, no one seems to remember making them. Whether they were recorded live at the Ash Grove, or were further studio recordings made the same day, no one knows. Nevertheless, the magic continued, and by the time it was all over, nearly a dozen titles were captured (some have theorized that the audience applause heard on these additional recordings was overdubbed at a later date).

On this episode of Blues Unlimited, we hear classic selections from these one-of-a-kind, historic recordings (it was an experiment, sadly, that was never repeated), along with a few tracks from two of our other favorite LPs of the Blues Revival period — Mississippi Blues by Bukka White on the Takoma label, and I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll, by Mississippi Fred McDowell, issued by Capitol in 1969.

Bukka White's recordings for Mississippi Blues were made in 1963 after two enthusiasts, Ed Denson and John Fahey, sent a postcard to Bukka's old home town of Aberdeen, Mississippi, saying that they were looking for him. Simply addressed to "Bukka White - Old Blues Singer c/o General Delivery," the postcard was eventually forwarded to him in Memphis, and when the three of them connected, Denson and Fahey eagerly drove from their home in Washington, D.C., to Memphis, making them the first people to record Bukka White in the "rediscovery" period. The resulting album also became the very first issue on the now-famous Takoma label.

I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll, Fred McDowell's classic on the Capitol label, was made by Wolf Stephenson and Tommy Couch — if those names sound familiar it's because they're the founders of the Malaco record label — who brought him down to their studio in Jackson one day in September 1969. Fred was sporting an electric guitar now, instead of his old acoustic one, and all the haunting, biting, and stinging qualities in his slide guitar playing were only amplified along with it. Something in the record clicked with the music buying public, and it went on to become the biggest seller in Fred's career.

Together, these three LPs -- Down South Summit Meetin' by Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Big Joe Williams -- Mississippi Blues, by Bukka White -- and I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll by Mississippi Fred McDowell -- represent three high points of the rediscovery period, and we're proud to present them 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/ychs6rgl

Don't forget to install the PodOmatic Podcast Player app for iOS so you can listen to Sleepy Boy Hawkins wherever you go! Details at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/podomatic/id648258566?mt=8

Down South Summit Meeting (Hour 1)
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May 30, 2017 10:04 AM PDT
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Join us as we profile three classic albums from the 1960s rediscovery period — Down South Summit Meetin' by Big Joe Williams, Lightnin' Hopkins, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, plus selections from Fred McDowell's I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll, and Mississippi Blues by Bukka White.

To hear this episode in its original full-fidelity high quality audio, it may be downloaded from Bandcamp at: http://tinyurl.com/y9ufjdav

Don't forget to install the PodOmatic Podcast Player app for iOS so you can listen to Sleepy Boy Hawkins wherever you go! Details at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/podomatic/id648258566?mt=8

Blues Masters Unplugged (Hour 2)
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May 23, 2017 11:50 AM PDT
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On this episode of Blues Unlimited, we take a look at some artists whose names are pretty much synonymous with bringing modern, electric and amplified blues to the world at large in a somewhat unique setting – alone and acoustic, without the benefits of electricity. From classic cuts off of "Muddy Waters Folk Singer," to live recordings of Eddie Boyd, Billy Boy Arnold and Little Johnny Jones, to Howlin' Wolf, introspectively playing acoustic guitar and singing to himself – this episode of Blues Unlimited turns off the electricity to shed a new — and somewhat illuminating — light on some of our favorite postwar blues artists.

Pictured: Now considered a classic, “Muddy Waters Folk Singer,” issued 1964, attempted to capitalize on the exploding folk music market of the 1960s.

To hear this episode in its original full-fidelity high quality audio, it may be downloaded from Bandcamp at: http://tinyurl.com/jvnag5n

Don't forget to install the PodOmatic Podcast Player app for iOS so you can listen to Sleepy Boy Hawkins wherever you go! Details at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/podomatic/id648258566?mt=8

Blues Masters Unplugged (Hour 1)
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May 23, 2017 11:37 AM PDT
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On this episode of Blues Unlimited, we take a look at some artists whose names are pretty much synonymous with bringing modern, electric and amplified blues to the world at large in a somewhat unique setting – alone and acoustic, without the benefits of electricity. From classic cuts off of "Muddy Waters Folk Singer," to live recordings of Eddie Boyd, Billy Boy Arnold and Little Johnny Jones, to Howlin' Wolf, introspectively playing acoustic guitar and singing to himself – this episode of Blues Unlimited turns off the electricity to shed a new — and somewhat illuminating — light on some of our favorite postwar blues artists.

Pictured: Now considered a classic, “Muddy Waters Folk Singer,” issued 1964, attempted to capitalize on the exploding folk music market of the 1960s.

To hear this episode in its original full-fidelity high quality audio, it may be downloaded from Bandcamp at: http://tinyurl.com/jvnag5n

Don't forget to install the PodOmatic Podcast Player app for iOS so you can listen to Sleepy Boy Hawkins wherever you go! Details at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/podomatic/id648258566?mt=8

Mr. Estes' Neighborhood: The Blues in Brownsville, Part 2 (Hour 2)
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May 16, 2017 10:42 AM PDT
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When it comes to the hand that the cards of life deals us, some might say that John Adams Estes wasn’t blessed with a very good one. Born into a large family in 1900, near Ripley, Tennessee, the days of his youth were largely spent in the fields, helping out on the farm. As was typical in those days, there was little time for schooling in between chores. Estes joked about it later, quipping that he’d spent “twelve years in school, all in the first grade.” An accident at a baseball game led to the loss of his sight in one eye, and a penchant for dozing off led to the nickname “Sleepy.” Needless to say, it stuck.

The family moved to the greater Brownsville area in 1915, and it was here, according to researcher and blues expert Don Kent, that his interest in music started blossoming. Music, in fact, ran in the family — his father was a guitar player, and one of his brothers played the banjo — but it was a connection with Hambone Willie Newbern that would prove to be most fruitful. Newbern apparently made his living as a local musician, and when Estes teamed up with him, the pair traveled widely around the area, even as far as northern Mississippi on occasion, to play at the usual circuit of country picnics, local dances, and fish fries.

While still in his teens, he heard that a young up-and-coming musician had been hired to play at a weekend dance — a job that Estes felt should have been his — and he went down to investigate. There he found James “Yank” Rachell (pictured), a talented multi-instrumentalist who, as a young boy, had taken the pig his mother had given him to raise, and traded it to a neighbor for a mandolin. While we can only imagine how his mother must’ve felt, for blues fans, it was a trade that worked out pretty well. Estes, in fact, liked his playing, and rather than view him as a competitor, they teamed up, forging a partnership that would last throughout their lives.

Estes and Rachell continued to work throughout the 1920s, playing together, and joining forces with other local musicians. Guitarist Charlie Pickett was reportedly a cousin of Estes, and Son Bonds’ mother was part of the extended Newbern clan. It was, in fact, Hambone Willie Newbern who would be among the first to record of the Brownsville musicians, being called to Atlanta in March 1929, where he cut six titles for the sake of posterity. Among them was the classic Delta standard, “Roll And Tumble Blues.”

While playing the streets of Memphis one day, Rachell and Estes were approached by Jim Jackson, who hit it big with his 1927 recording of “Kansas City Blues.” Jackson told them he could get them an audition with a record company, but the Brownsville pair figured they could navigate those waters themselves. As evidenced by their first recording, “The Girl I Love, She Got Long Curly Hair,” they apparently were successful. Cut in Memphis on Tuesday, September 24th, 1929, the melody employed the basic “Roll And Tumble” theme from Newbern, while the opening lyric gave us a memorable reference: “Now, I’m goin’ to Brownsville, [gonna] take that right hand road.”

Two days later, they were back in the studio, this time with the addition of Jab Jones, who’d previously recorded with the Memphis Jug Band. Rachell’s fluid mandolin playing contrasted nicely with Estes’ simple guitar work, and Jab Jones’ “country piano” rounded out the trio in a lively fashion. Altogether, they cut almost a dozen and a half sides for Victor — among them, “Milk Cow Blues” and “Divin’ Duck Blues,” with Rachell’s “Expressman Blues” being selected, some 20 years later, for inclusion in Harry Smith’s legendary compilation, “Anthology of American Folk Music.”

Unfortunately, it all came to an end just as quickly as it had begun. After recording a final four titles on Friday, May 30th, 1930, the executives at Victor decided not to have them back for any further sessions. Surely, the onslaught of the Great Depression was a factor, because a few years later, after Victor launched their budget Bluebird subsidiary — they would reach into Estes’ catalog and reissue three of his most popular titles once again.

Another five years would pass before Estes was back in a studio, this time for Decca. An offshoot of the English Decca label, their American counterpart began issuing 78s in 1934, and also bought the rights to the Champion imprint, which had once been a part of the Gennett company, headquartered in Richmond, Indiana. It was on the Champion label that Estes’ first recordings for Decca were issued, with “Drop Down Mama” and “Someday Baby Blues” becoming notable standouts. While the former was issued - and reissued - four different times during the 1930s (here in the states and also overseas in England), the latter title would be reworked into the oft-recorded blues standard, “Worried Life Blues.”

When Estes was called back for further sessions with Decca, in 1937, there was a subtle shift evident in his music. It is here that we begin to find him incorporating observations of everyday life unfolding around him — and the people and places of his hometown — into his music. There are songs about lawyers, undertakers, the local auto mechanic, the postman, a liquor store owner, and even one about a woman whose house burnt down. Personal events from his life also find their way into his songs, such as getting thrown off a train by the railroad police while trying to hobo his way to a recording session in New York City, and, in one of his most memorable songs, an incident that found Estes nearly drowning in the Ohio River, saved only by the timely actions of his harmonica-playing partner, Hammie Nixon. While other blues musicians certainly observed the events going on around them and used that ingredient as the basic raw material for their music, with Estes, it was different. As Don Kent so eloquently put it, “Of all the fine musicians to come out of western Tennessee, ...Estes made the greatest imprint due to his unique style of singing the blues and, in later works, his perceptions and songs of the events and people around Brownsville, Tennessee. For documenting local color, he is unmatched by any blues musician.”

Estes’ last recordings for the prewar market would occur for Decca in 1940, and for Bluebird in 1941. Perhaps his most haunting tune, however, would be found in his 1938 Decca recording, “Everybody Oughta Make A Change.” A timeless truth coupled with some sage advice from Estes, it ranks as one of the essential masterpieces of the blues.

In the late 1940s, Estes lost the sight in his other eye, leaving him completely blind. That didn’t slow him down, though. He was still making recording sessions, notably for Sam Phillips and Sun Records in 1952, as well as a couple of tiny Chicago independents, Ora Nelle and Bea & Baby, in 1948 and 1960, respectively.

In 1962, the blues world was stunned to learn that Estes was still living, quietly, as he always had, in his sharecropper’s shack in Brownsville, Tennessee. Apparently, Big Bill Broonzy had managed to convince everyone that Estes was a ripe old man during the time of his 1920s and ’30s recordings, thereby leaving all concerned to believe that he had long since passed. But, as the old saying goes, the rumors of his demise were somewhat premature.

With a second career, during the Blues Revival, Estes was afforded many new opportunities. He recorded and traveled extensively — to the Newport Folk Festival, and also overseas to Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival tours. But in spite of all the fame and adoration this afforded him during his golden years, the “fortune” counterpart never really happened. Sleepy John Estes died as he had lived — in utter, dire poverty, in Brownsville, Tennessee, in 1977.

On their webpage honoring Estes as one of their Hall Of Fame inductees, The Blues Foundation offers these words, from Ray Harmon:

“ . . many have asked what it is that makes John’s music so vital, so absolute in its sense of emptiness and desperation. His voice, filled to the brim by the lackluster existence of life in a poor farming community, informs all that hear it of the barely suppressed passion in his words. . . . John’s music is that of an extraordinary man caught in a mundane world, but captivated by the very things that make this world mundane.” <http://blues.org/blues_hof_inductee/sleepy-john-estes>

As we said at the beginning, the cards of life that John Adams Estes were dealt may not have made for the greatest hand, but like other blues musicians before and since him, he was able to turn that energy back on itself, and channel it into something altogether different. By immortalizing the events of his life, and the people and places around him — in that process — we see Estes transforming the mundane, and turning it into a highly artistic, poetic statement. In other words, Estes took the life he was given, and turned it into art.

When you think about it, then, maybe everything about his life — and death — unfolded just as it should have. Many others have notoriously tried to make their lives into high art (a few names come to mind), but Estes simply showed us how it’s done. And while he may not have enjoyed earthly riches as a result of that process, the riches he left the blues world will be remembered for all time.

Pictured: Brownsville mandolin man, James "Yank" Rachell (in his later years).

To hear this episode in its original full-fidelity high quality audio, it may be downloaded from Bandcamp at: http://tinyurl.com/nypg4ga

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