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samedi 21 mai 2016

HOMESICK JAMES/ Early Recordings and Life



HOMESICK JAMES/ Complete Early Recordings 1952-64


Malgré une production discographique relativement abondante et plusieurs interviews qu'il a donnés, la vie réelle de Homesick James reste confuse. Il s'est longtemps fait appeler James Williamson et a prétendu être le cousin (voire le demi-frère) de John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson;. guitariste de Elmore James durant plusieurs années à la fin des 50's, il a changé de patronyme, son nom de famille devenant James, lui-même se proclamant le cousin germain d'Elmore et bien sûr son seul héritier musical légitime! En fait, Homesick James est né William Henderson, près de Somerville, une grosse bourgade du centre du Tennessee.
Sa date de naissance est aussi très sujette à caution. D'abord (et longtemps) située le 3 mai 1914, Homesick a ensuite presque constamment donné le 30 avril 1910 et même à plusieurs occasions le 30 avril 1904! Mais plusieurs témoignages de proches ou d'amis font penser qu'il était en fait bien plus jeune et qu'il serait né aux alentours de 1920-24. Ce qui cadrerait beaucoup mieux avec son apparence physique telle qu'on a pu la juger de visu depuis la fin des 60's. Ainsi qu'avec celle de ses parents qui sont apparus, en pleine forme et visiblement pas plus âgés que 70 ans, à ses côtés au Nashville Heritage Festival en 1976!

            En effet, William grandit dans une famille de musiciens: sa mère Cordellia Henderson Rivers est une guitariste et chanteuse de blues. Son père, Plez Rivers est membre du célèbre Broadnax Fife and Drum band qui animait les pique-niques, mariages, bals... jusqu'à Nashville durant les années 20 et 30. Enfin, son oncle, Tommy Johnson (aucun rapport avec le grand bluesman du Delta), était lui aussi un bluesman d'importance du Tennessee central amène son neveu à Memphis sans doute dans les années 30 et lui fait rencontrer Peetie Wheatstraw, alors résident d'un club de Beale Street, John Estes, Yank Rachell, John Lee Williamson, Big Walter Horton, John Henry Barbee et Little Buddy Doyle derrière lequel il aurait enregistré pour la première fois en 1939 pour Bluebird.
C'est probablement à ce moment-là (et non pas vers 1929 comme il l'a parfois affirmé) qu'il se fait appeler James Williamson et qu'il gagne Chicago en compagnie de John Henry Barbee. On le retrouve vite parmi les habitués de Maxwell Street et il est certainement membre des orchestres de Memphis Minnie puis (à la fin des années 40) de Johnnie Temple, rencontrant par la même occasion pour la première fois Elmore James. Il n'est guère certain d'ailleurs qu'il ait pratiqué la guitare slide avant cette rencontre.
Lorsqu'il a enfin l'occasion en juin 1952 d'enregistrer cinq titres en leader sous le nom de James Williamson pour le label Chance, il alterne les pièces avec et sans slide. Mais c'est une de ces dernières, Johnnie Mae qui lui vaut un petit succès à Chicago. Il récidive donc en janvier 1953, cette fois en compagnie de Johnny Shines et Lazy Bill Lucas, gravant enfin Homesick, interprété totalement à la Elmore, alors très populaire. C'est un vrai succès commercial (sans doute la meilleure vente pour le label Chance) et cela pousse William Henderson à s'appeler définitivement Homesick James et à capitaliser à la fois sur sa slide guitare et sa supposée parenté avec Elmore. Il retourne une nouvelle fois dans les studios pour Chance en août 1953, gravant une somptueuse séance accompagné de Snooky Pryor, magnifique à l'harmonica.
Il participe alors à plusieurs orchestres, particulièrement celui d'Elmore James derrière lequel il enregistrera à plusieurs reprises. Mais, à part une séance pour Atomic H en 1954 sous le nom ed Jick and His Trio (! et jamais éditée), Homesick ne retrouve les chemins des studios en leader qu'en 1962, un 45t pour Colt qui couple Can't afford to do it et Set a date, une fois encore deux très beaux titres. En 1963, il grave une grande version du classique Crossroads pour USA. Ces disques, largement confidentiels, ne lui rapportent rien, sauf une réputation auprès des bluesfans de plus en plus nombreux dans le monde qui s'intéressent à ce guitariste slide qui, à la mort d'Elmore en 1963, semble être son continuateur désigné.
C'est cette renommée, développée par la revue anglaise Blues Unlimited, qui pousse Sam Charters à le contacter et l'enregistrer pour ce public du blues revival: un bel album pour Prestige (Bluesfrom the Southside) en compagnie de Lafayette Leake et Lee Jackson et surtout quatre titres pour l'anthologie Chicago/ The blues today dont le succès international va lui permettre de tourner fréquemment en Europe. Parallèlement, Homesick grave encore quelques beaux titres pour Spivey (avec son vieil ami John Henry Barbee) et Decca (sous la houlette de Willie Dixon).
Si une grande partie de cette première oeuvre a été souvent rééditée, plusieurs séances rares, inédites ou/et introuvables apparaissent enfin ici dans leur chronologie. Merci à tous ceux qui ont permis ce travail, notamment Steve Wisner et Jim O. (pour la rareté absolue de la séance Atomic H de 1954) ainsi que Xyros dont le blog Don't ask me... est indispensable à tout amateur de blues.
                                                                      Gérard HERZHAFT

            Despite a large discography and many interviews, the truth about the early years of Homesick James' life are still a little bit hazy. He called himself James Williamson for a very long time, pretending to be a first cousin to John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, then one of the most famous bluesman. As a guitarist of Elmore James, he then said repetedly he was also his first cousin and, at Elmore's death, his sole legitimate musical heir!
            In fact, Homesick James was born William Henderson at Longtown (Tennessee). Generally his given birthdate (based on Homesick's statement) was 30 April 1910 although he frequently said "30 April 1904". In fact, several accounts from relatives and friends give a much later birthdate, around 1920-24. Which would fit much more with his physical appearance until 1976 when he played alongside with his parents (who neither seemed to be aged more than 70) at the Nashville Heritage Festival.
            His mother Cordellia Henderson Rivers was a very good blues and gospel singer and guitarist while his father Plez Rivers was a staunch member of the locally well known and in-demand Broadnax Fife and Drums Band. And his uncle, a Tommy Johnson (no relation with the Delta bluesman of the same name) was also a well known bluesman in this part of the Tennessee State. This Johnson brought the young William to Memphis during the late 1930's where he had the chance to meet and play with many recording bluesmen including Sleepy John Estes, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, John Henry Barbee and Little Buddy Doyle with whom he could have even recorded in 1939.
            It's only then that William Henderson named himself James Williamson. During the early 1940's he and John Henry Barbee went to Chicago where they were featured together on Maxwell Street's market. Wiliamson also played with Memphis Minnie (a strong and lasting influence, particularly on his vocal) and Johnnie Temple, probably meeting in Temple's band Elmore James who taught him how to play the slide.
            Anyway, James Williamson first recorded as a leader and under this name in 1952 and 1953 for the Chance label, three sessions with two local hits, Johnnie Mae and particularly the very Elmorish Homesick that prompted William Henderson-James Williamson to at last become Homesick James!
            After Chance collapsed, Homesick recorded again either as Elmore's sideman or several short sessions for small labels like Atomic H (under the odd moniker Jick and his trio, never issued), La Salle (a whole still unissued session), Colt or USA, particularly in 1963 a striking version of Crossroads. Those records bring Homesick a strong reputation to the fledgling european blues community, particularly through the pioneering British mag Blues Unlimited. All those led Sam Charters to go to Chicago and record a whole album by Homesick for Prestige and then a noted contribution to the best-selling series Chicago/ The Blues today. At the same time, James waxed also several lesser known sessions for Spivey and Willie Dixon.
            If a large part of Homesick's early discography has been reissued, several odd, unissued or unobtainable tracks appear here for the first time in their chronological place. Many thanks to all those whose help made this possible, particularly Steve Wisner, Jim O. and Xyros whose blog Don't ask me... is of course a must for any blues buff!
                                                                       Gérard HERZHAFT


25 commentaires:

  1. Ce commentaire a été supprimé par l'auteur.

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  2. This is really excellent Gerard. I'm looking forward to listen and compare with my collection to see if if I can find any missing tracks.

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    1. Thanks, Ballas.I'm sure you'll find some very rare tracks, particularly the 1954 Atomic-H which has never cropped up really before

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    2. The two Atomic -H tracks is indeed a find for me - thank you very much Gerard.
      The only track I can find missing from this period is "Crawlin'" on Prestige LP 7388.
      How significant do you rate alternative takes of particular tracks? They often sound the same to me but there are the odd tracks that are substantially different.

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    3. Oops! You're utterly right, "Crawlin'was missing. So here it is:
      http://www85.zippyshare.com/v/46xFQKyB/file.html
      I've included the so-called alternate tracks when they were issued as such. But I agree with you, very often, there are no significant differences between the takes

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    4. This is why I love this blog. You can listen to tracks your would never have discovered anywhere else, whilst you can also learn from experts like Gerard. Long may you continue your work.

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  3. Super
    en tout cas c'est bien Hound Dog qui chante "I Know you don't love me"
    BBB

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  4. Merci Benoît. Je suis tout à fait d'accord mais comme Blues Discography persiste à donner Homesick comme le chanteur guitariste de ce titre, je l'ai inclus ici

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  5. Thank you very much. Your posts are always interesting and informative.

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  6. Hello Gerard,
    never thought I could listen to "Jick & His Trio" in my life.
    Many, many thanks!

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    Réponses
    1. Thanks also must go to those generous souls who share their ultra rare collections

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  7. Thank you Gerard for this great Homesick James collection. I think I already have every available album by HJ, plus countless tracks scattered over Chicago collections, but it is most welcomed to have all these early tracks collected together. I can't recall if I've heard the 2 Atomic H tracks before, probably not, so it really is appreciated to have a copy of these very rare recordings.

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  8. Thanks for always finding something new for me to discover , i thought i had all the Homesick James early recordings , but i was wrong . Merci beaucoup !

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  9. Hello,
    thank you for these rare gems.

    I think the title should be:
    HOMESICK JAMES/ Complete Early Recordings 1952-64 (not 1962-1964).

    Great blues-blog anyway
    Crazy Horse

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  10. Thank you, Gerard! As others have mentioned, the Jick & His Trio sides are especially welcome and unexpected! There are three alternate takes from the Bluesville sessions that were later issued on a Stax CD called "Windy City Blues" (SCD 8612).
    They are:
    - Gotta Move (alt tk)
    - The Cloud Is Cryin' (alt tk)
    - Homesick's Shuffle (alt tk)

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    1. True! This CD is still esaily available and with some rare Albert king tracks should be in every blues buff collection

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  11. Hi, I knew Homesick very well. There's always been the controversy between blues scholars about his age, well back in 1997 Homesick told me he was 93. I went on tour with Robert Jr. Lockwood who was 83 at the time and knew Homesick most of his life. I asked Lockwood about Homesick's age and he said he was a lot older than him. So I tend to believe Him when he says he was born in 1904. I lost all my records but the first recording I had of Homesick James was 1949.

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  12. On the Real Blues Forum (Facebook), someone uncovered Homesick's application to the Chicago musician's union (from around 1950 or so), in which he himself recorded his birth year as 1924.

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  13. There has been considerable debate regarding the "true" age of Homesick James. The man himself was known to give several different birth years: 1905, 1910, and 1914 seem to be the most common. These dates would have made him as old as many of the lauded pre-war bluesmen (and older, indeed, than Elmore James). He often made a point of stressing his age in interviews. A typical newspaper story from 1975 had Homesick take offense at having his guitar style compared to Elmore James': "I was playing that way long before Elmore -- hell, I'd be eight years older than him if he was alive today." Pete Lowry, who recorded Homesick circa 1976 in Homesick's hometown of Somerville, Tennessee, had the chance to meet Homesick's parents, Plez Williamson and Cordellia Henderson Rivers, all of whom can be seen in Pete's photo included in this article. As always, Homesick looked remarkably young for his age in this photo (as did his parents, for that matter). A few years ago, Scott Dirks offered on the Real Blues Forum some of his findings from the archives of the Chicago Musician's Union, including a union application from one "James Arthur Williamson," a guitar player, who gave his birth date as May 2, 1924. This date would certainly seem a more accurate year for Homesick's birth, given his youthful photos. But was "James Arthur Williamson" really Homesick? Well, yes, apparently he was. From the 1940 census of Fayette County, Tennessee (the county in which Homesick's hometown of Somerville is located), we find a listing for a Plez Williamson (head of household, age 44), his wife Delia (age 37), a stepfather by the name of John Rivers (age 97), and several children, including a James A. Williamson (age 16), who's birth date is given as "about 1924." And next door to them lived a family by the name of Henderson. Based on the Chicago Musician Union application and this census data, we can conclude that Homesick James was born James Arthur Williamson in Somerville, Fayette County, Tennessee, in 1924 (presumably May 2).

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  14. Thank you very much, Jeff. Your researches, comments and facts you bring here enlighten this article. I wouldn't say I knew really Homesick but I had the chance to meet him and chat a little bit with him three times when he was touring over here. He was easy to get along with but very quickly it was apparent Homesick answered whatever he wanted - facts or not - to the ones who interviewed him. On the three times I asked him some questions about his life, music and career, he never said the same things and each time he had a new story to tell... Of course, this was quite common among the bluesmen of his generation. Facts are of course important but what counts the most for a musician is his music. And Homesick was a very very fine bluesman and his recording legacy is a true testimony to him being a major talent

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  15. Thank you, Gerard. I wish I'd had the chance to meet Homesick. I, too, am a great admirer of his music. But I will stir the pot a little and say that I think the mysterious "Marshall Jones" tracks recorded at Elmore James' final sessions for Fire in New York City were actually Homesick James. Not everyone agrees.

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  16. thank you very much excelent thank you little ushi

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