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mardi 28 janvier 2014

BLUES FOUNDATION/ KEEPING THE BLUES ALIVE AWARD


JANUARY 2014/ MEMPHIS




David Evans with Gerard Herzhaft's Award.Thank you David for everything
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear friends of the blues,

         It is with a lot of pride that I'm receiving this Keeping the Blues Alive Award from the Blues Foundation 2014.
         It has been a long road from the first time I met the blues in France to this Memphis ceremony. I guess it started during the late 1950's when I was a teenager. Those were the Rock'n'roll years even in France and it seemed that the real blues, which was of course one of the pillars of it all, was in small doses coming to us.
         I remember when I got my first blues record. We had a party to celebrate the eve of summer holidays and we were dancing to the sounds of our 45s that were relentlessly playing on an old battered record player. And shaking the floor like we did was also shaking the records a little too far sometimes. Among those damaged was one of my 45. Behind my worried look, the friend who hosted the party offered me to swap my record with one of his. I agreed and this is how I got a Lightnin' Hopkins EP. I had never heard about such a strange name and I strongly suspected my friend to be too happy to get rid of a record he didn't like!
         At first, I didn't like it either: four titles in the same strange mood. Fortunately, I hadn't too many records at that time and Hopkins came rolling again and again on my record player. And the more I listened to this strange music the more I was hooked on it. There was anyway a strong similarity between what I was accustomed to listen to and Mr Hopkins, but he had something more. This was music with incredible feeling, depth and guts.
         " The blues got after me and never let me be...". I could have made those lyrics my own because after that encounter I became a blues fan, searching everywhere for any blues record, tracking any information about it. After that I went to England where there were more blues records, some American blues acts too. I met some other staunch blues buffs, some of whom have become rock stars... I started some tentative writing for the very few magazines that were dealing with the blues.
         A greater shock would be when the American Folk Blues Festival tours started in 1962. It was so exciting to be able to see at last bluesmen that were for me mostly just names on records... Suddenly, John Lee Hooker was moaning his blues just behind me and he was still quite young! Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Big Joe Williams, Sleepy John Estes, T-Bone Walker and many more were playing and singing the blues for real!
         At that time, it was very easy to meet and chat with those artists, especially when you were bringing them a bottle of Cognac. Then I discovered that those who, for me, were Mozarts and Beethovens were fighting for bread and butter in their home country and were not very often recognized as artists. And one thing that was particularly stunning was the impression that I already had met those people through their records... The music was great and full of feeling because the musicians had lived exceptional experiences and had the ability to share them with us through their blues.
         I then decided to try to bring them the recognition they so much deserved. This was how I began to write books and articles about the blues and the bluesmen, searching everywhere, meeting other researchers, going to the USA first in 1968, then in 1973 and after that quite regularly, gaining two Fullbright Grants for my studies in 1979 and 1985.
         Many people helped me to understand the real soul of the blues and I would like to express them my full gratitude: David Evans who brought me in the juke joints of the Delta, an unforgettable experience, was certainly one of the most crucial of those helpers; Barry Lee Pearson, Bob Koester, A.E. Schroeder, Kenneth Goldstein, Bill Mitchell, Jim Griffith and too many generous others to be fully cited.
         I also would like to thank all those who made it possible for me to receive this award today, particularly my friend Jacques Périn, founder of the Soul Bag Magazine, my brother Cisco who was here in Memphis two years ago, France Blues and Jean Guillermo who were so instrumental for my "cause" and of course all of you here at the Blues Foundation who, year after year, act strongly for the blues to be considered as a major art form.
         Thank you, deeply and sincerely, to you all.

Gérard HERZHAFT, Memphis, 24 Janvier 2014

mercredi 8 janvier 2014

CALVIN FRAZIER/ Detroit Blues Masters Vol. 8




CALVIN FRAZIER: Detroit Blues Masters Vol. 8

           
Des quelques "vrais" compagnons de Robert Johnson, Calvin Frazier est à la fois le plus méconnu et peut-être celui qui a été le plus proche de Robert.
            Calvin naît le 16 février 1915 à Osceola (Ark) de Belle et Van Frazier, deux métayers sur une plantation de coton. La famille compte cinq enfants et, pour des raisons économiques, vient s'installer à Memphis dès 1923. Van travaille dans une fabrique de meubles et son épouse dans une blanchisserie. La famille Frazier est très pieuse et aussi très musicienne. Le père qui chante et est un excellent violoniste, banjoïste, guitariste et bassiste forme un groupe familial de Gospel avec sa femme (qui chante et joue du piano) et tous ses enfants, notamment l'aîné Johnny qui devient très vite un guitariste réputé tandis que Calvin joue de la batterie, de la mandoline et de plus en plus de la guitare sous l'influence du père et du frère aîné. A intervalles réguliers, leur cousin Johnny Shines vient vivre quelques semaines avec eux et participe aux concerts de la famille Frazier.
            Selon Shines, Johnny et Calvin Frazier jouaient aussi le blues dans les rues de Memphis, un duo dans la mouvance de ceux de Frank Stokes/ Dan Sane et qui devient un trio quand Shines vient lui aussi vivre à Memphis.
            Vers 1930-31, le trio a suffisamment de réputation pour avoir des engagements dans le Delta et jusqu'à Helena. C'est là qu'ils font la connaissance de Robert Johnson qui joue dans les rues accompagné de la batterie de Peck Curtis. Robert s'associera dès lors régulièrement aux frères Frazier et à Shines, devenant leur compagnon et ami, animant durant plusieurs années juke-joints, pique-niques, cérémonies privées etc.... A Blytheville, le trio s'adjoint les talents du guitariste Sampson Pittman que Calvin retrouvera plus tard à Detroit. A Memphis, Calvin joue aussi régulièrement avec le célèbre pianiste Speckled Red qui lui apprend plusieurs morceaux qui demeureront à son répertoire (Dirty dozens).
            Les évènements se précipitent en 1935 quand une querelle entre Johnny Frazier et son beau-père dégénère en bataille rangée. Johnny meurt d'une balle dans le ventre tandis que Calvin, blessé par le beau-père, a le temps de se réfugier dans sa voiture, d'en ressortir avec un fusil et d'abattre le forcené. Après un court séjour à l'hôpital de Memphis, Calvin choisit de fuir la justice si souvent expéditive du Sud et, en compagnie de Robert Johnson et Johnny Shines, gagne Saint Louis. Le trio de "ruraux" n'y est pas forcément bien accueilli par les musiciens de la grande ville mais réussissent cependant à jouer dans les clubs locaux avec Roosevelt Sykes, Peetie Wheatstraw ou Blind Teddy Darby (qui influencera considérablement le chant de Johnny Shines).
            Les trois bluesmen vont ensuite à Decatur avec l'intention de tenter leur chance à Chicago, ville de toutes les opportunités, mais une rencontre fortuite leur permet un engagement bien rémunéré au Elder Moten Show, un spectacle de Gospel de Detroit. C'est donc dans la ville de l'automobile que Calvin et ses compagnons se trouvent à l'automne 1935. Ils logent chez Frances Dunlap, une cousine de Johnny Shines, que Calvin courtise tout de suite et avec laquelle il se marie. Calvin trouve un job dans l'industrie et décide de s'installer définitivement à Detroit tandis que Johnny Shines et Robert Johnson le quittent.
            Calvin - qui a déjà une expérience musicale importante - se fait aisément une place dans la scène bourgeonnante du blues de Detroit, composée de bars, salons de coiffure, clubs, restaurants tout le long d'Hastings Street (le quartier de Paradise Valley).
            Entre août et novembre 1938, l'ethnomusicologue Alan Lomax enregistre les communautés d'Américains venus très nombreux dans le Wisconsin et le Michigan depuis les Balkans et l'Europe Centrale. C'est tout à fait par hasard qu'il "tombe" sur Calvin Frazier qui a juste reformé un duo avec Sampson Pittman, retrouvé à Detroit! Lomax, intrigué par les liens entre Calvin et Robert Johnson, enregistre donc Frazier à deux reprises en octobre et début novembre 1938, une série de morceaux complets (les seuls que nous ayons retenus pour ce recueil), de fragments et d'interviews.
            Les années suivantes voient Calvin Frazier jouer de plus en plus fréquemment à Detroit, s'associer avec Big Maceo qui doit l'amener enregistrer en studio à Chicago pour Bluebird. Hélas, Calvin est très malade ce jour-là et ne peut honorer cet engagement qui aurait peut-être changé le cours de sa carrière!
            Cependant, sa réputation de guitariste - de plus en plus moderne et influencé par les guitaristes californiens comme T-Bone Walker - ne cesse de s'amplifier et tous les bluesmen et orchestres de R&B de Detroit se disputent sa participation. Calvin tourne ainsi durant 1946-47 avec la prestigieuse Jungle Five Revue qui l'emmène jusqu'à New York et Montreal. Il est aussi très souvent associé à Baby Boy Warren, à l'orchestre de T.J. Fowler, apprend la guitare à Bobo Jenkins. A partir de 1954, il est un des premiers à utiliser une Stratocaster, ce qui le situe parmi les bluesmen pionniers de ce célèbre modèle!
            Malgré cela, Calvin n'enregistre qu'une poignée de titres sous son nom et essentiellement pour de petits labels très mal distribués de Detroit ou de la ville voisine de Toledo comme JVB, Fortune, Alben...
            Il décède d'une crise cardiaque le 23 septembre 1972 dans sa ville de Detroit, un musicien respecté et souvent admiré par ses pairs mais mal connu au-delà d'un cercle d'amateurs.
            Nous avons réuni ici (et pour la première fois) la totalité de sa courte oeuvre - il manquait deux titres gravés avec le Jimmy Millner's band que nous désormais pu retrouver (cf ci-dessous et sur ma chaîne YouTube) - et on peut ainsi apprécier l'évolution de ce musicien, depuis le "nouveau" Delta blues élaboré en compagnie de Shines et Robert Johnson jusqu'aux sonorités jazzy et modernes des années 1950. Cette évolution aurait très probablement été aussi celle de son ami et compagnon si celui-ci avait vécu. En effet, tous les quelques proches compagnons de Johnson (Calvin mais aussi Robert Jr Lockwood et Johnny Shines) ont développé un style moderne dans les années 1940 et 50.
                                                                                  Gérard HERZHAFT
 
Detroit 1935
            Among the handful of those who "really" lived and played with Robert Johnson, Calvin Frazier is altogether the less known and maybe the closest to Robert.

            Calvin is born on February, 16th, 1915 at Osceola (Arkansas), one of five children of Van and Belle Frazier, a family of sharecroppers. As early as 1923, the Fraziers come to Memphis for better jobs, the father working on a furniture factory and the mother in a laundry. The Fraziers are very religious and also good musicians and they form a Gospel band with Van singing and playing fiddle, banjo, guitar and bass, Belle singing and playing the piano while Johnny, the elder son, is already a fluent guitar player who strongly influences his little brother Calvin. Quite often, one of their cousin, Johnny Shines, comes to live and also plays with them.

            But the Frazier brothers - with quite often Johnny Shines - play also the blues for extra money on the Memphis Streets. Around 1930-31, the trio has enough reputation to play outside Memphis, in Tennessee as well as in the Delta juke joints and in Helena (Ark) where they meet Robert Johnson, playing there in the streets, backed by the drums of Peck Curtis (!). The young men become quickly friends and Robert will very often play with the Fraziers and Johnny Shines at juke joints, parties, picnics and such... In Memphis, Calvin accompanies also the famous pianist Speckled Red who teaches him many of his favorite songs like Dirty dozens.

            In 1935, a family brawl between Johnny Frazier and his father in law turns into tragedy. Johnny is shot dead by his father in law while Calvin, wounded, has just the time to catch a rifle in his car and kill his brother's murderer. After a short stint at Memphis hospital, Calvin chooses not to trust the local justice and, alongside his old partners Robert Johnson and Johnny Shines, takes the road up to Saint Louis. Although those "rural" musicians are not very well greeted by the local accomplished bluesmen they nevertheless play here and there with Roosevelt Sykes, Peetie Whetastraw and Blind Teddy Darby (whose vocals will strongly influence Shines).

            After Saint Louis, the three friends want to go to Chicago seeking  better opportunities but while playing in Decatur they are hired by the Elder Moten Show, a Gospel caravan which needs them for a series of well paid Detroit dates during the fall of 1935.

            While in Detroit, they live at the home of Johnny Shines' cousin Frances Dunlap who some weeks later marry Calvin. Getting a good steady job in a motor plant, Frazier decides to settle in Detroit. For Calvin, it is the end of the road shared with his old friends, Robert Johnson and Johnny Shines who then leave Detroit to return to the South for the winter.

            Calvin who has already a long musical experience becomes easily a favorite of the burgeoning Detroit blues scene, mostly around Hastings Street and Paradise Valley.

            In October 1938, Alan Lomax who was on a recording hunt for local musical traditions from Wisconsin and Michigan (essentially people coming from the Balkans and Eastern Europe) hears about this Detroit bluesman who knew very well Robert Johnson. Lomax then records Frazier accompanied by Sampson Pittman, an old buddy from the South who also now lives in Detroit. Among the musical examples and spoken interviews made by Lomax we have only kept the ten "complete" (or almost) titles recorded during two days in October and November 1938. They are undoubtedly strong examples of a style very close to Robert Johnson's.

            The following years, Calvin plays very often with almost every blues or R&B act in Detroit and his guitar playing is more and more "modern", very influenced by the rising Californian guitar stars like T-Bone Walker. While associated with Big Maceo, Calvin should have recorded in Chicago for the Bluebird label but quite ill this very day he is unable to do the trip! Maybe it would have changed the course of his career?

            During 1946-47, Calvin tours with the Jungle Five Revue and plays his guitar licks up to New York and Montreal. He is also the lead guitarist of Baby Boy Warren, the T.J. Fowler's R&B band, the Jimmy Millner's Rhythm Band, teaches the guitar to Bobo Jenkins.... Early in 1954, he buys himself a Stratocaster, being certainly one of the very first bluesman to play this type of guitar.

            Despite all this, Calvin records only sporadically under his own name and only for very small local Detroit or Toledo labels with poor distribution (Fortune, Alben, JVB...).

            He dies at the young age of 57 from a massive heart attack on September 23d, 1972, a well respected musician, with a strong reputation among his peers but largely unknown outside a small group of blues buffs around the world.

            We have been able to gather here and for the first time everything Calvin Frazier has recorded (two tracks waxed for Fortune with the Jimmy Milner's band have been now unearthed, see below and on my YouTube channel.). Thus we are able to appreciate fully the considerable talent of this very underrated guitarist, how he (like all of the few real Robert Johnson's close associates like Robert Jr Lockwood and Johnny Shines) has evolved from the "new" Delta blues of his Southern years to the jazzy and modern sounds of the late 40's and 1950's. Calvin and Johnson were so close musically that we only can imagine that Robert himself would certainly have followed the same path, if only he could have lived enough.

                                                           Gérard HERZHAFT


CALVIN FRAZIER/ Complete Recordings
Calvin Frazier, vcl/g; Sampson Pittman, g. Detroit, Mi. 15-16 octobre 1938
01. This old world is in a tangle
02. I'm in the Highway man
03. Lilly Mae blues
04. Welfare blues
Calvin Frazier, vcl/g; Sampson Pittman, g. Detroit, Mi. 1 novembre 1938
05. She's a double crossin' woman
06. The Dirty dozens
07. Boogie woogie
08. Lilly Mae n°2
09. Blues
10. Highway 51
Calvin Frazier, vcl/g; band Detroit, Mi. 1949
11. Sweet Lucy (Drinking woman)
12. Bebop boogie
Calvin Frazier, vcl/g; Barbara Brown, vcl on *; band. Toledo, Oh. 1951
13. Got nobody to tell my troubles to
14. Rock house
15. Lillie Mae n°3
16. I need love*
Calvin Frazier, vcl/g; T.J. Fowler, pno; Elliot Escoe, tpt; Walter Cox, t-sax; Lee Gross, a-sax; John Murphy, bs; Clarence Stamps, dms. Detroit, Mi. 25 juillet 1952
17. Got nobody to tell my troubles to n°2
18. Little baby child
Calvin Frazier, vcl/g; Jimmy Millner's Blue Rhythm, band. Detroit, Mi. 1952
Sweet bread baby
Lilly Mae n°4
(see below and on my YouTube channel)
Calvin Frazier, vcl/g; Washboard Willie, wbd/dms. Detroit, Mi. 1956
19. We'll meet again
20. Lilly Mae n°5
21. Track down
22. Rockhouse
Calvin Frazier, g; band. Detroit, Mi. 1958
23. Have blues, must travel
Calvin Frazier, vcl/g; t-sax; og; Washboard Willie, wbd. Detroit, Mi. 1960
24. 2-2-5 Special I & II

Grâce à la générosité de Steve Wisner, nous avons maintenant les deux titres (Sweet bread baby/ Lilly Mae n°4) qui manquaient encore à cette intégrale. Steve a été un des acteurs essentiels du Chicago blues des années 70, produisant certains des meilleurs albums de cette période comme Eddie Campbell/ King of the Jungle, Mojo Buford's Chicago Blues Summit, Bring me another half a pint ou Good Rockin' Charles. Merci encore à lui.
Thanks to the generosity of Steve Wisner, we can now listen to the two (very rare) missing titles by Calvin Frazier (Sweet bread baby/ Lilly Mae n°4). For those who should not know, Steve has been a very bold and gifted producer of the Chicago blues during the 1970's, giving us masterpieces like Eddie Campbell/ King of the Jungle (certainly the best album this great artist ever waxed), Mojo Buford's Chicago Blues Summit (also one of his best), Bring me another half a pint or Good Rockin' Charles. Thanks again, Steve!


mercredi 1 janvier 2014

BABY BOY WARREN/ Detroit Blues Masters Vol. 7




BABY BOY WARREN: Detroit Blues Masters Vol. 7

        
   Baby Boy Warren a été un nom important du blues de Detroit, enregistrant entre 1949 et 1954 une série de disques qui font presque tous aujourd'hui figure de classiques du genre.
           Né le 13 août 1919 à Lake Providence en Louisiane, Robert Henry Warren a passé sa jeunesse à Memphis, apprend la guitare avec son frère aîné avec lequel il forme un duo, Big Boy Warren et Baby Boy Warren, un surnom qui lui restera. Il joue dans les années 1930 dans Beale Street et Handy Park côtoyant la plupart des grands bluesmen de la ville et forgeant son style de blues sous l'influence de Little Buddy Doyle et Willie Borum, deux bluesmen populaires à Memphis à cette époque ainsi que, surtout peut-être, de John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. Il fait même partie durant quelques mois du célèbre programme radiophonique basé à Helena (Ak), King Biscuit Time, aux côtés de l' "autre" Sonny Boy (Rice Miller) et Robert Jr Lockwood.
           Comme beaucoup, il gagne Detroit en 1942 afin de trouver un bon salaire chez General Motors et fait ses débuts discographiques en 1949, gravant 21 titres en six ans, une série de très beaux blues pour de petits labels comme JVB, Drummond, Blue Lake, Staff, Prize... avec assez de succès local, pour que certains titres soient repris par des labels mieux distribués comme Federal, Gotham ou Excello.
           Ces disques présentent Warren en compagnie de la crème des musiciens de Detroit comme Calvin Frazier ou Boogie Woogie Red. Mais ce sont ses séances de janvier 1954 qui demeurent les plus prisées des amateurs de blues car il y est accompagné de Rice Miller. En effet, l'harmoniciste de Jackson, avant de s'installer à Chicago, était venu à Detroit, logeant quelques mois chez son ancien compagnon du King Biscuit Time, Baby Boy Warren. Chicken (Chuck a luck) est d'ailleurs essentiellement un instrumental de Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller). Mais les autres morceaux comme Sanafee ou Hello Stranger / Mattie Mae (une composition de John Lee Williamson) sont aussi extrêmement réussis.
           Mais le blues très ancré dans la tradition sudiste de Baby Boy passe de mode dès le milieu des années 1950. Dans une dernière séance à l'été 1954, il tente un peu d'étoffer sa musique avec l'adjonction du saxophone de Johnny Hooks mais, malgré l'excellence de sa version du classique popularisé par John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, Stop breaking down, ce disque n'a aucun succès et Warren va progressivement abandonner la musique durant une décennie.
           Le début des années 1970 voit un certain regain d'intérêt pour le blues traditionnel si bien représenté par Baby Boy et Warren apparaît au Detroit Blues Festival de 1971, à Ann Arbor et fait même une tournée en Europe en compagnie du pianiste Boogie Woogie Red. Il aurait enregistré durant cette tournée un LP entier qui n'a malheureusement jamais été publié.
           Il recommençait à jouer régulièrement à Detroit dans l'orchestre du guitariste Willie D. Warren quand il a succombé à une crise cardiaque le 1er juillet 1977.
                                                                 Gérard HERZHAFT


           Baby Boy Warren is another major name of the post-war Detroit blues scene and his recording output (between 1949 and 1954) has gained some kind of a "classical" status.
           Born on August, 13th, 1919 at Lake Providence (La), Robert Henry Warren has in fact been raised in Memphis, learning the guitar with his elder brother with whom he formed a duo, Big Boy Warren and Baby Boy Warren, a nickname that would stick to him forever. During the late 1930's he plays regularly with local bluesmen Little Buddy Doyle and Willie Borum while being strongly influenced by the recordings of John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. He is rumoured to have recorded two titles at that time but no evidence of this has never surfaced. In 1941, he is for a few months a featured member (alongside the other Sonny Boy (Rice Miller) and Robert Lockwood) of the popular radio programme King Biscuit Time broadcasted from Helena (Arkansas).
           1942 finds him in Detroit trying to make a better living at General Motors and playing the blues in the clubs. He finally makes his first known recordings in 1949, visiting sporadically the Detroit studios for the next six years, issuing records on small local labels, some of it stirring enough interest to be also issued by labels with national distribution like Federal or Excello. Baby Boy is backed by the best Detroit bluesmen (Calvin Frazier, Boogie Woogie Red) but this is his January, 1954 session that generally is better known because he is in the company of his old mate Rice Miller who, coming from the South to Chicago, made a stopover in Detroit, living for some months at Baby Boy's place and playing with him at some Hastings Street's clubs. In fact, Chicken/ Chuck a luck is mostly a Rice Miller instrumental. The other titles are of the same high standard, particularly Sanafee and Hello Stranger/ Mattie Mae, a reworking of a John Lee Williamson's hit.
           But, despite an essay to modernize his sound with the add of Johnny Hooks' saxophone on a last 1954 session, the very downhome blues of Baby Boy with a strong late 1940's flavor seems already out-fashioned and Warren won't record anymore, playing less and less outside private parties.
           He was making a modest comeback in the 1970's with appearances at the 1971 Detroit blues festival, the 1973 Ann Arbor festival (where he recorded two "live" titles) and a European tour alongside Boogie Woogie Red (he may have recorded an album during this tour but nothing has been issued insofar) when he died of a massive heart attack on July, 1st 1977.
                                                      Gérard HERZHAFT

BABY BOY WARREN/ Complete Recordings

Robert Henry Warren, vcl/g; Charley Mills, pno; Milt Larkin, bs. Detroit, Mi. 1949
01. My special friend blues
02. Nervy woman blues
03. Lonesome cabin blues
04. Don't want no skinny woman
05. Forgive me darling
06. Please don't think I'm nosey
Robert Henry Warren, vcl/g; Boogie Woogie Red, pno; Calvin Frazier, g; Curtis Foster, dms. Detroit, Mi. 1950
07. I got lucky
08. Let's renew our love
09. Taxi driver
10. Bad lover blues
Robert Henry Warren, vcl/g; Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), hca; Washboard Willie, wbd. Detroit, Mi. 10 janvier 1954
11. Sanafee
12. Not welcome anymore
13. Hello stranger
14. Bring me my machine gun
15. Chicken
16. Chuck a luck
17. Baby boy blues
Robert Henry Warren, vcl/g; Boogie Woogie Red, pno; Calvin Frazier, g; Washboard Willie, wbd. Detroit, Mi. mars 1954
18. Mattie Mae
19. Santa Fe
Robert Henry Warren, vcl/g; Johnny Hooks, t-sax; Boogie Woogie Red, pno; Little George Jackson, g; Jimmy Tarrant, dms. detroit, Mi. juillet 1954
20. Somebody put bad luck on me
21. Stop breaking down
Robert Henry Warren, vcl/g; Boogie Woogie Red, pno; band. Ann Arbor, Mi. 1973
22. Too many drivers
23. She's fine