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jeudi 5 mai 2022

EDDY CLEARWATER/ Complete Studio Recordings 1958-79

 



EDDY CLEARWATER/ Complete Early Recordings 1958-79


           Jadis quelque peu considéré uniquement comme un imitateur de Chuck Berry, Eddy Clearwater (né Eddie Harrington le 10 janvier 1935 à Macon, Ms de parents Noirs et Cherokees) est aujourd'hui reconnu à juste titre comme un des derniers grands représentants toujours actifs du Chicago blues traditionnel de l'après-guerre.
           Il est vrai que Clearwater a été aussi prolifique et versatile dans sa vie que dans sa musique: plongeur, videur, chauffeur de taxi, éducateur, producteur, éditeur de disques mais toujours musicien, Eddy Clearwater a aussi pratiqué toutes sortes de musiques, des blues profonds à la Country Music, du Rockabilly au Gospel, etc... Il cite d'ailleurs parmi ses influences marquantes Hank Williams, Louis Jordan, Muddy Waters ou Chuck Berry.
           Il arrive à Chicago en 1950 après un passage à Birmingham (Alabama) ou il a joué et chanté dans plusieurs groupes de Gospel. A Chicago, il est hébergé et influencé par son oncle Houston Harrington, un amateur (et bientôt fondateur des disques Atomic-H) de blues grâce auquel il connaît de nombreux autres jeunes bluesmen comme Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Morris Pejoe.. ainsi que son cousin l'harmoniciste Carey Bell Harrington.
           A partir de 1953, c'est sous le nom de Guitar Eddy qu'il entame une carrière de musicien sur le marché aux puces de Maxwell Street ainsi que dans les bars de Chicago. C'est sur le label de son oncle (et sous le surnom de Clear Waters pour concurrencer Muddy Waters!) qu'il enregistre ses premiers disques en 1958, en particulier le savoureux Hillbilly blues qui est un petit succès dans le classement Country local!. Mais c'est son A minor Cha Cha, un instrumental très inspiré de Jody Williams qui lui vaudra l'attention des fans de blues du monde entier.
          

En 1959, Clearwater contacté par Eddie Blazonczyck (1941-2011: un immigré polonais qui deviendra un nom majeur de la musique américano-polonaise), devient le guitariste noir (une rareté à l'époque même à Chicago) du groupe (blanc) de Rock'n'roll que fonde Blazonczyck et trois amis sous le nom de Eddy Bell and The Hill Boppers qui deviendront très vite les Belairs (ou Bel-Airs). Clearwater enregistre substantiellement avec Eddy Bell, démontrant sa capacité à émuler les guitaristes de Rockabilly, ce qui lui vaut d'ailleurs toujours une certaine aura dans ces cercles.

           Parallèlement, il continue à jouer du blues sous son nom dans les bars de Chicago, enregistrant sporadiquement des 45t pour de petits labels sans grande distribution.
           Ce n'est en fait qu'en 1973-74 et son association avec le pianiste Bob Riedy qu'Eddy Clearwater peut réellement développer sa propre carrière de bluesman. Il enregistre de magnifiques albums comme The Chief pour Rooster, le label de Jim O'Neal avant de graver d'autres excellents disques pour Delmark, MCM, Charly, Blind Pig, Bullseye...
           Cette visibilité lui permet de participer à de nombreuses tournées européennes où son dynamisme, la qualité de sa musique, son jeu de guitare et son sens de la scène lui assurent un constant succès.
           Nous avons ici regroupé la quasi-totalité des premiers 45t qu'il a enregistrés avant ses premiers albums auxquels nous avons ajouté certains des disques gravés en compagnie de Eddy Bell.
                                                                 Gérard HERZHAFT

          

Photo: © Gérard Herzhaft
 
At first, pigeonholed as a simple Chuck Berry's impersonator, Eddy Clearwater (born Eddie Harrington from Cherokee and African American parents on January, 10th 1935 at Macon, Ms) is justly hailed today as one of the last performing masters of the post-war Chicago blues.
           It's true that Eddy has been as versatile in his life than in his music: dishwasher, bouncer, cab driver, teacher, producer and of course musician... Eddy has also played a lot of musical styles with the same ease, whether Rockabilly, Country Music, Gospel than deep Chicago blues.
           After a stint in Birmingham (Alabama) where he seemed to have played and sung with local Gospel groups, Eddy reaches Chicago in 1950 where he is welcomed by his eccentric uncle Houston Harrington who is also a staunch blues fan and soon blues producer who will create his famed label Atomic-H. Through Houston, Eddy meets and befriends with Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Morris Pejoe, Sunnyland Slim as well as his own cousin, future harmonica ace, Carey Bell Harrington. Eddy learns a lot with and from them as well as listening to R'n'R records, particularly Chuck Berry's.
           He starts to play in clubs and on Maxwell Street under the nickname Guitar Eddy that Uncle Houston will soon turns into Clear Waters, then Clearwater to match with Muddy Waters' popularity! It's also on his uncle's new label Atomic-H that in 1958 Eddy waxes his first 45s, particularly Hillbilly blues which stirs some interests in the Country & Western local circles. But this is the top instrumental A minor Cha Cha (largely derived from Jody Williams) that draws the attention of the blues buffs from around the world, still a classic!
           In 1959, probably through the reputation of Hillbilly blues, Clearwater is approached by Eddie Blazonczyck (1941-2011: a recent polish migrant who will become one of the top names of "Polka" music) who is launching his own Rock'n'roll band, Eddy Bell and The Hill Boppers who will soon turn into Eddy Bell and the Bel-Airs. To be an African American musician with an all-white band is certainly very seldom viewed at that time! Clearwater will then play and record regularly with this successful R'n'R band, demonstrating his skills as a Rockabilly guitarist which earns him a reputation among Rockabilly fans up to this day.
           He anyway manages to play also blues under his name into Chicago clubs and records some 45s for very small labels with poor distribution. He will have to wait until the early 70's and an association with the Bob Riedy's blues band to become a well-known Chicago blues name. He records a wonderful album for Jim O'Neal (The Chief) then a large number of generally excellent LPs and CD's for Blind Pig, Delmark, Charly, MCM, Bullseye... He also tours Europe quite often, gaining a large following thanks to his excellent music, guitar playing and dynamic stage presence.
           We have been able to gather all his early recordings to which we have added some of the titles he made with Little Eddy and the BelAirs.
                                                      Gérard HERZHAFT


EDDY CLEARWATER Complete Studio Recordings 1958-79

Eddy Clearwater, vcl/g; Lazy Bill Lucas, pno; John Hudson, g; bs; Richard Rogers, dms. ChicagoIll. may 1958

01. Boogie woogie baby

02. Hillbilly blues

03. Jumpin' at Charley's

04. Neckbones everyday

Eddy Clearwater, vcl/g; Rayburn Williams, pno; Chuck Slmith, t-sax; b-sax; Jimmy Lee Robinson, bs; Richard Rogers, dms. ChicagoIll. february 1959

05. I don't know why

06. A-minor Cha Cha I & II

07. Ain't that a shame

08. Dancin' time

Eddy Bell & The Rock-A-Fellas: Eddie Blazonczyck Sr, vcl/dms; Eddy Clearwater, g; The Rock-A-Fellas, band.  ChicagoIll. 18 may 1959

09. Counting the days

10. Night party

Eddy Clearwater, vcl/g; Lee Jackson, g; Sunnyland Slim, pno; Tom Archia, t-sax; Corky Robertson, bs; Jump Jackson, dms. Chicago, Ill. July 1960

11. Hillbilly blues

12. Wanna be cool

Eddy Bell & The Bel-Aires: Eddie Blazonczyck Sr, vcl/dms; Eddy Clearwater, g; band. ChicagoIll. september 1960

13. The masked man (Hi Yo Silver)

14. Anytime

Eddy Bell & The Bel-Aires: Eddie Blazonczyck Sr, vcl/dms; Eddy Clearwater, g; band. ChicagoIll. february 1961

15. Knock knock knock

16. Wear my class ring on a ribbon

Eddy Clearwater, vcl/g; Rayburn Williams, pno; Jesse Pariles, g; Chuck Smith, t-sax; b-sax; bs; Pete Perez, dms. ChicagoIll. may 1961

17. Cool water

18. Cool clear water

19. Baby please

Eddy Bell & The Bel-Aires: Eddie Blazonczyck Sr, vcl/dms; Eddy Clearwater, g; band. ChicagoIll. october 1961

20. Johnny B. Goode is in Hollywood

21. I'm all alone

Eddy Clearwater, vcl/g; Mitchell Robinso, pno; Hank Marr, og; Freddy King, g; Osborne Whitfield, t-sax; Laurence Frazier, bs; Philip Paul, dms, vcl grp. ChicagoIll. 21-22 november 1961

22. A real good time

23. I was gone

24. Twist like this

25. Hey Bernardine

Eddy Bell & The Bel-Aires: Eddie Blazonczyck Sr, vcl/dms; Eddy Clearwater, g; band. ChicagoIll. december 1961

26. The great great pumpkin

27. I'm still in love with you

Eddy Bell & The Bel-Aires: Eddie Blazonczyck Sr, vcl/dms; Eddy Clearwater, g; band. ChicagoIll. 1962

28. Rock'n'roll USA

29. He's a square

30. Few more days

Eddy Clearwater, vcl/g; g; Ernest Gatewood, bs; dms. ChicagoIll. 1965

31. Momee momee

32. The duck walk

Eddy Clearwater, vcl/g; Mighty Joe Young, g; tpts; Chuck Smith, t-sax; Bob Little, b-sax; Mac Thompson, bs; Louis Batista, dms. ChicagoIll. 1 may 1969

33. Doin' the model

34. I don't know why #2

Eddy Clearwater, vcl; Bob Riedy, pno; John Reda, g; Dan Draher, g; Mark Gaston, tpt; Mike Cogan, t-sax; Mike Williams, a-sax; Bob Falvey, bs; Richard Robinson, dms. ChicagoIll. july 1974

35. Pretty baby

36. Caldonia

Eddy Clearwater, vcl/g; Chuck Smith, t-sax: Abb Locke, t-sax; Bob Riedy, pno; Allen Batts, og; Bob Falvey, bs; Richard Robinson, dms. ChicagoIll. november 1974

37. True love

38. Lonely nights

Eddy Clearwater, vcl/g; Little Mack Simmons, hca; Bob Riedy, pno; Thomas Eckert, g; Aaron Burton, ba; Sam Lay, dms. ChicagoIll. 14 march 1977

39. Muddy Waters goin' to run clear

40. Boogie my blues away

41. Blues at Theresa

42. I don't know why

43. Tore up all the time

44. Real fine woman

45. Mayor Daley's blues

46. Came up the hard way

Eddy Clearwater, vcl/g; AbbLocke, t-sax; Dimestore Fred (Fred Stoop), hca; Allen Batts, org; Jimmy Johnson, g; Mark Wydra, g; Marvin Jackson, bs; Casey Jones, dms. EvanstonIll. september-december 1978

47. A little bit of blues a little bit of Rock'n'roll

48. The world's in a bad situation

49. Blast off

50. Nashville road

51. Chicago Daily blues

Eddy Clearwater, vcl/g; Allen Batts, org/pno; Mark Wydra, g; Scott Meyer, bs; John Hiller, dms. EvanstonIll. march-april 1979

52. Two times nine (2X9)

53. Payments on my woman

54. Came up the hard way


jeudi 31 mars 2022

JIMMY "PREACHER" ELLIS/ Complete Recordings

 

JIMMY "PREACHER" ELLIS/ Complete Recordings

 

 

           


Certainly not the best well known of all West Coast bluesmen, Jimmy "Preacher" Ellis nevertheless recorded a good amount of blues and soul that should have earned him a wilder reputation.

            Ellis was born on 17th August 1935 at Foreman (Arkansas) and started to sing at an early age in the family's local church. Around 1950, the family moved to Seattle. He was already a good enough singer to be asked to join the professional gospel group The Traveling Four. During his military service, Ellis learned the guitar thanks to Johnny Bradford, a friend soldier who used to sing and play the blues every week end around his Mississippi hometown.

            After his discharge, Ellis joined several doo wop groups like The Centuries before starting a solo career in the early 1960's. Relocated to Los Angeles, Jimmy formed a band and played in many clubs and venues, drawing the attention of songwriter and producer Fats Washington who recorded him for his fledgling Movin' and Ride labels. The records sold enough locally to allow Jimmy and his band to have many more gigs. The early 70's saw more Ellis records, this time for Mel Alexander's Kris and Space labels. 16 of those tracks have been reissued as an LP and CD by the bold German Tramp label with great mastering and generous liner notes that inspired most of this article! The Tramp CD and LP is still available there https://tramprecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-story-of-jimmy-preacher-ellis

             The 1980's and 90's were lean years for Ellis although he made some appearances in festivals, once jamming with The Monkees. He anyway recorded in 1996 his only full and largely blues-based album Red, Hot & Blues. He appeared at the D.C. Minner's Dusk til Dawn Blues Festival in Rentiesville, Oklahoma as late as 2015!

            He was apparently living in Dallas at that time.

           This post gathers all Ellis's recordings. A lot of thanks to all who helped to document this very good artist.

                                          Gérard HERZHAFT

 

JIMMY PREACHER ELLIS (James Ellis), vcl/hca/g; band. Los Angeles, Ca. 1960

01. Tough competition

02. I can't work and watch you

Jimmy Preacher Ellis, vcl/g; band. Los Angeles, Ca. 1964

03. Work with what you got

04. A fool for a friend

05. Baby I love you

06. Kiddio

Jimmy Preacher Ellis, vcl/g;  Curtis Tillman, bs; band. Los Angeles, Ca. 1966

07. Go ahead on

08. I'm gonna do it by myself

09. Nobody knows

10. Cry no more

Jimmy Preacher Ellis, vcl/g/hca; Bob Greco, t-sax; band. Los Angeles, Ca. 1968

11. Two tenors, tone and a bone

12. Dance to the Drumbeat

13. Put your hoe to my row

14. Don't tax me in

15. Trouble all over the land

Jimmy Preacher Ellis, vcl/g;  The Odd Fellows, band. Los Angeles, Ca. 1969

16. I gotta see my baby

17. That's the way I am

18. You can't pour the water on me

19. Looking through the eyes of love

20. I gotta see my baby

21. Happy to be

22. I just wanna be myself

23. Hard times

Jimmy Preacher Ellis, vcl/g; band. Los Angeles, Ca. 1970

24. Why I sing the blues I & II

25. Puttin' it on your mind

Jimmy Preacher Ellis, vcl; Howard Anderson, g; Woody Woods, kbds; Roosevelt Caldwell, pno/org; Scotty Varneau, hca; Harold Hunter, a-sax; Ken Roberts, bs; Richard Martinez, dms. Torrance, Ca. 1996

26. Can't work and watch you

27. Everyday's a holiday with the blues

28. Hard times

29. Hoochie coochie man

30. I got my mojo working

31. Mean husband blues

32. Rainy night in Georgia

33. Sweet dreams

34. Work with it

35. You

36. You can't count me out

 

 

mercredi 9 mars 2022

FOREST CITY JOE

FOREST CITY JOE/ Complete Recordings 


           
Forest City Joe, aujourd'hui connu pour les enregistrements de terrain effectués par Lomax en 1959, a cependant failli s'affirmer comme un des grands harmonicistes de Chicago de l'après guerre. Comme le dira Muddy Waters: "Joe était le meilleur des élèves de Sonny Boy mais il n'a pas su s'accrocher et il n'a pas eu de chance".
            Né Joe Bennie Pugh à Hughes dans l'Arkansas le 10 juillet 1926 dans une famille de métayers, il a très jeune appris à jouer sous l'influence de sa mère Mary Walker de la guitare, du piano et plus tard de l'harmonica particulièrement en écoutant les disques de celui qui deviendra son idole et son modèle, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. A partir du début des années 1940, celui que l'on nomme désormais Forest City Joe joue un peu partout dans les juke joints du Mississippi et de l'Arkansas, parfois en compagnie de Big Joe Williams qui l'emmène tenter sa chance à Saint Louis.
            De Saint Louis, l'étape obligée est Chicago, d'autant plus que pour Joe, il espère y rencontrer Sonny Boy. Ce qu'il réussit à faire, profitant même de quelques leçons du maestro. La réputation de Forest City Joe est suffisante pour que les frères Chess lui fassent enregistrer une séance pour leur label Aristocrat le 2 décembre 1948. Son guitariste devait être Muddy Waters (et la séance aurait été certainement tout autre) mais Muddy indisponible est remplacé par un obscur guitariste de Memphis, J.C. Cole qui se contente de quelques accords pas toujours très affirmés. Sur les huit titres, deux seulement (Memory of Sonny Boy/ A woman in every street) seront édités en 1949 sur un 78t, essentiellement pour "profiter" de l'émotion engendrée par le meurtre récent de John Lee Williamson.

            Le disque ne se vend guère mais permet quand même à Joe d'apparaître dans les clubs en compagnie de Otis Spann, Muddy Waters ainsi qu'à West Memphis au sein de l'orchestre de Howlin' Wolf et avec le pianiste Willie Love, lui-même membre de l'orchestre du Wolf. Quant à J.C. Cole, on l'a retrouvé trois ans plus tard à Memphis gravant une séance pour Sam Phillips (restée inédite des lustres) dans laquelle il apparaît comme un émule de John Lee Hooker!
            Mais Forest City Joe n'arrive guère à vivre de sa musique et, détestant Chicago, il retourne vivre à Hughes, conduisant un tracteur en semaine et jouant les week ends dans les juke joints locaux.
            L'histoire aurait pu s'arrêter là si Alan Lomax et Shirley Collins, au cours de leur célèbre expédition dans le Sud, ne s'étaient pas attardés à Hughes un vendredi soir de septembre 1959. Joe se trouve devant un bazar/bar local, le Old Whiskey Store et joue de la guitare. La conversation s'engage et quelques jours plus tard, Lomax enregistre Joe dans le juke joint de Charlie Houlin où Forest City se produisait régulièrement en trio avec l'excellent guitariste Sonny Boy Rogers (qui gagnera Minneapolis et y enregistrera) et le batteur Thomas Martin. Cette superbe séance a paru par bribes sur diverses anthologies, en particulier The Blues Roll on mais, grâce à la Fondation Lomax (Cultural Equity) et à sa générosité, nous disposons désormais de l'intégrale de ce qui demeure un formidable témoignage de la musique et de l'atmosphère des juke joints sudistes à la fin des années 1950.
            Dans la foulée, Lomax enregistre aussi un autre trio présent ce 1er octobre 1959, emmené par le chanteur harmoniciste Boy Blue (Roland Hayes) que l'on retrouvera quelques années plus tard au festival de Memphis et qui comprend le guitariste Joe Lee Jones qui grave aussi un titre en leader.
            Sous la houlette de Lomax, Forest City Joe envisageait de relancer sa carrière musicale et devait enregistrer un album complet pour Columbia ou Vanguard quand, le 3 avril 1960, de retour d'un engagement, Joe s'est probablement endormi au volant de son van, décédant dans l'accident qui s'ensuivait.
                                                           Gérard HERZHAFT
Encore tous mes remerciements à Cultural Equity et John Barstow pour leur aide.

           
As Muddy Waters once told: " Forest City Joe was probably one of the best Chicago blues harp player ". Born Joe Bennie Pugh around Hughes, Arkansas on July, 10th 1926 among a sharecropping family, the boy, under the strong influence of his mother Mary Walker, started to sing and play piano and guitar. Later on, Joe fell in love with the harmonica sound through the records of John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson and soon became good enough to play in the local juke joints. During the mid-1940's, Joe plays with Big Joe Williams who brings him to Saint Louis and try his luck there.
            The next stage of the trip is of course Chicago. For Pugh, now known as Forest City Joe, this is also and maybe utmost the opportunity to meet his idol John Lee Williamson. His strong harmonica playing allows him to play in clubs and on Maxwell Street. And at last Williamson gives some harp lessons to his young admirer! Forest City Joe's reputation is strong enough for, just after the tragic death of John Lee Williamson, persuade the Chess Brothers to bring him in the studio and record a session on 2 December 1948 for their Aristocrat label. The guitarist had to be Muddy Waters but unexpectedly busy this very day, Muddy is replaced by an obscure guitar player from Memphis, J.C. Cole who backs Joe with some simple and not always reliable chords. Some years later, Cole will record a session in Memphis for no one than Sam Philips in a style reminiscent of John Lee Hooker! From the eight Forest City Joe's recorded titles, Chess will issue only two (Memory of Sonny Boy/ A woman on every street) on a 78t that goes nowhere.
            Anyway, Joe plays for awhile in Chicago with Muddy, Otis Spann and in Memphis with Howlin' Wolf and his pianist Willie Love. But, failing to support a large family with his music, Joe goes back to Hughes where he will make a living as a field labourer and tractor driver, still playing the blues on week ends on the local juke joints.
            This is here on Friday 30th September 1959 - in front of the local Old Whiskey Store - that Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins, while in Hughes during their famous Southern field trip, find Forest City Joe who is there playing the guitar and singing. After a fructuous conversation, Lomax decides to record the following day (1 October) Forest City Joe and his band (the guitar player Sonny Boy Rogers who will settle to Minneapolis and record there LP and CD; the drummer Thomas Martin) at Charlie Houlin's juke joint where Forest City Joe had to play the week end. This superb session has been only partially issued on several anthologies on Bluesville and Atlantic (The Blues Roll on) but thanks to Cultural Equity (The Lomax Foundation) we can now listen to the much longer complete session. Lomax also records another local band, the trio of another excellent harp player, Boy Blue (Roland Hayes) (1922-80) who will be seen several years later at the Memphis Blues Festival and behind Joe Willie Wilkins. Blue's guitarist Joe Lee Jones also sings on one track. Those recordings are exceptional, not only for the excellent blues music played by all but also because it lasts as one of the very rare testimony of the strong true atmosphere and feeling of a Southern black juke joint in the late 50's.
            Seizing this unexpected opportunity, Forest City Joe tried to resume his musical career. He planned to go back to Chicago and had to record a whole album for Vanguard or Columbia but while coming back for a gig, he probably fell asleep at the wheel and died in the accident on April, 3d 1960.
                                                           Gérard HERZHAFT
A lot of thanks for their invaluable help to Cultural Equity and John Barstow.


vendredi 25 février 2022

BIG WALTER HORTON/ Complete Recordings 1951-66

BIG WALTER HORTON/ Complete Recordings 1951-66

 

         


I guess it's certainly not necessary to present Big Walter Horton, also named Shakey Horton, to the followers of my blog. His reputation is very very high among blues buffs all around the world and particularly among harmonica players and fans for whom he is considered as one of the most accomplished and influential blues harp players of all times.

Heavy or piercing, hazy or precise, the harmonica playing of this "Big" Walter – the main competitor of the other Walter, the so called "Little" – is almost always full of feeling and imagination. Many of his solos are masterpieces and now classics of the genre and have been heavily emulated up to those days.

Although most of his biographies mention his birth date as 6th April 1918 at Horn Lake, Arkansas and Blues/ A regional experience gives a birth certificate (for a named Harton) from September 1921, Big Walter has always appeared to all who saw him, including yours truly, as a much older man than that.


Walter was certainly neither a leader nor a very reliable informant and during most of his career he was equally not a very reliable band player, the stories about how he didn't show at a gig or quit during the middle of a performance abound. And this certainly explains why he never reached any stardom, not even being able to make a living out of his music.

But of course when he was playing or recording, Big Walter was certainly a huge master of his instrument.

I had the opportunity to see him quite often while he was touring Europe either with the AFBF's 1965, 1968 and 1970 or when he was a band member of the Willie Dixon's Chicago Blues all stars. I also had the privilege to meet him in Chicago in 1979 when he was backing Floyd Jones on a tiny West Side club. And we drove him to his shabby home where he was living in ugly poverty while posters on the walls were testifying of his great reputation all around the world!


Anyway, this compilation tries to gather all the recordings he made under his name during the years 1951-66, from his early days in Memphis to his first European tour. Of course all of those have been issued and sometimes still available but scattered on many records with a majority of them out of stock. To have them together seemed to me a very interesting way to appreciate his terrific talents as a musician.

After 1966, Walter made a handful of albums for Alligator (maybe his very best) and with several young (at that time) bands like Hot Cottage or John Nicholas' and even appearing in the best selling album Fleetwood Mac/ Blues jam at Chess. All of those are very worthwhile.

Walter died in Chicago on 8th December 1981. To my eyes, he was certainly older than 60 years old.

                                                 Gérard HERZHAFT





The best online specialized harmonica shop is certainly HARMONICALAND. Try it!
La meilleure boutique spécialisée dans l'harmonica en ligne est certainement HARMONICALAND


jeudi 17 février 2022

JAMES COTTON/ Complete Early recordings 1953-66

 JAMES COTTON/ Complete Early Recordings 1953-66





     Si James Cotton jouit aujourd'hui à juste titre d'une grande réputation et figure au Panthéon des grands harmonicistes de blues, cela n'était certainement pas le cas lorsqu'au début des années 60 le petit cercle d'amateurs de blues européens le découvrit.

           Cotton n'était alors essentiellement connu qu'en tant que remplaçant de Little Walter au sein de l'orchestre de Muddy Waters, et pas forcément à son avantage!

           Né le 1er juillet 1935 à Tunica dans le Mississippi, James Cotton apprend très jeune à jouer de l'harmonica en écoutant les disques de John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson que son oncle lui prêtait et l'émission de radio King Biscuit Time dans laquelle officiait Sonny Boy "Rice Miller" Williamson. Persuadé que Rice Miller était le Sonny Boy des disques, Cotton convainc son oncle d'aller le voir. Flatté, Miller prend l'adolescent sur la route avec lui et Cotton le remplace sur scène (ou derrière le rideau selon les lieux étant donné son jeune âge) quand Sonny Boy est trop imbibé pour jouer. Lorsque Miller part soudainement vers le Nord, Cotton se retrouve embauché à Memphis par Joe Hill Louis puis Howlin' Wolf. Dans le groupe, Cotton noue une amitié durable avec les frères Murphy (Floyd et Matt), Pat Hare, Junior Parker, Willie Johnson... Presque naturellement, Sam Phillips enregistre James sur Sun, deux 78t de R & B de très bon niveau mais dans lesquels Cotton ne joue pas d'harmonica et qui ne se vendront guère.

           James gagne Chicago au milieu des années 50. Lorsque Muddy Waters licencie Big Walter Horton de son orchestre à cause de ses nombreuses inconséquences, James Cotton devient l'harmoniciste du groupe. Une fonction qu'il conservera une dizaine d'années. Cotton enregistre abondamment avec Muddy Waters et se fait ainsi connaître du grand public. Au début, il semble quelque peu gêné par la présence occulte de ses grands prédécesseurs (Little Walter notamment, au style très différent). Mais il développe peu à peu un jeu d'harmonica, bien plus terrien que celui des Walters, swinguant, tout en puissance et finalement extrêmement efficace.

            Lorsque Muddy emmène James avec lui en Angleterre, l'infatigable jazzman britannique Chris Barber en profite pour enregistrer James, huit titres qui ne paraîtront qu'en Europe sur deux 45t EP. Malgré un accompagnement laborieux et peu inspiré, cette séance de 1961 permet à Cotton de prouver l'étendue de ses talents d'harmoniciste et de chanteur. L'influence de John Lee Williamson est alors écrasante autant dans les trois morceaux qu'il lui emprunte que dans le reste.

           Cette escapade anglaise a permis à Cotton de s'aviser qu'un public blanc et international s'intéressait de plus en plus au blues et qu'il y avait là une opportunité à saisir. De retour à Chicago, Cotton se rapproche de la petite fraternité de jeunes fans de blues qui gravitent autour de Paul Butterfield et Mike Bloomfield et il se produit avec eux dans plusieurs campus universitaires et clubs du North Side, montrant au passage pas mal de "plans" à Butterfield. Quelques titres enregistrés au cours de ces prestations nous sont parvenus avec un Cotton particulièrement en verve. Sa voix chaude, grasseyante se marie merveilleusement à son harmonica et autant Butterfield en second harmonica que Mike Bloomfield (ou Elvin Bishop?) à la guitare montrent leur réelle empathie avec le vrai blues.

           En 1964, Cotton partage un microsillon produit par Sam Charters avec les autres membres du Muddy Waters blues band mais le LP est uniquement attribué à Otis Spann. Après un 45t pour Cadillac Baby dans lequel c'est Little Mack qui joue de l'harmonica (!), Cotton retrouve Charters et les autres musiciens de Muddy Waters pour cinq magnifiques titres qui paraissent dans la célèbre anthologie Chicago/ The blues today.

           Finalement, James se décide à tenter une carrière personnelle, forme son propre blues band avec Sammy Lawhorn à la guitare, le temps d'enregistrer un nouveau (et excellent) 45t pour le label Loma en 1966.

           Il lui faudra attendre l'année suivante (1967) pour enfin graver son premier album sous son nom sur le label Verve. Débute alors une autre et longue histoire.

                                                                 Gérard HERZHAFT

 

              If today James Cotton stands rightfully as a legend and as one of the leading stalwarts of the Chicago blues harmonica style, it has not always been the case. In the early 60's for instance when Europe discovered the blues, Cotton was chiefly considered as a so so substitute to Little Walter in the Muddy Waters' blues band. And he will have to fight hard to stand out as his own.

              Born on a plantation near Tunica, Ms. July 1st, 1935, James learned at a very early age to play the harmonica while listening to his uncle's huge record collection, particularly the 78s of John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson and the King Biscuit Time's radio programme from Helena (Arkansas) that was led by the "other" Sonny Boy Williamson, Rice Miller.

              The uncle like the nephew, persuaded - like many others - that there was only one Sonny Boy, went to see his show, chatted and playing with him. Some time after, the young James was taken under the not so protective wing of Rice Miller who used him as a valet as well as a replacement on stage (or behind a curtain, Cotton being still too young to play in most of the joints) when he was too whiskey-soaked to stand up. When Sonny Boy dropped everything suddenly to go North with his new wife, Cotton tried to maintain the band for awhile but it was a too hard task for such a young man and he instead settled in Memphis, playing in several blues bands, particularly Howlin Wolf's. As almost every blues act around Memphis, Phillips recorded twice James Cotton, four nice R&B tracks with stunning Pat Hare's guitar parts but no trace of harp blowing.

James went to Chicago in the mid-50's, playing with almost everybody. At that time, Muddy was looking for a new harp player, Little Walter being already a star on his own and Big Walter proving he had a not reliable enough behaviour to play regularly with a busy touring band. And James was very reliable, so he took the place, a role that he would keep for more than a decade. And Cotton recorded widely with Muddy in a very different style than the Walters, more down-home, almost "Country", always Sonnyboyesque and more and more swinging, forceful and effective.

              When Muddy brought James with him for a tour of Great Britain, the indefatigable British jazz band leader Chris Barber took the opportunity to record him as a leader. Despite a very uninspired and pedestrian backing band, this 1961 session is very rewarding. Cotton proves his talents with his harmonica during eight titles with a very strong John Lee Williamson's influence.

              During this British adventure, Cotton realized that there was a new public outside the black ghettos for the blues. Back to Chicago, Cotton was more and more involved in the Blues Revival fledgling movement, beginning a friendship with the young white bluesmen like Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield and playing with them on college campuses and North Side clubs. Some tracks recorded during those kind of venues had reached us, featuring a very masterful Cotton in this acoustic setting.

              In 1964, Sam Charters recorded five tracks by Cotton as a leader with the current Muddy Waters' band but the album was attributed only to Otis Spann. After a 45 for Cadillac Baby (in which Little Mack plays the harp, not James!), Cotton recorded another session for Charters with Spann and others, a stunning session that would be issued on the famed Chicago/ The blues today series, doing a lot to establish Cotton's reputation.

              At that time, Cotton finally tried to lead his own band enrolling the great Sammy Lawhorn on lead guitar. They recorded a masterful 45 for the Loma label in 1966.

              Cotton will have to wait 1967 to sign a contract with the Verve label and at last record his first album under his name. Then starts another new and long story.

                                                                    Gérard HERZHAFT

 

JAMES COTTON Complete Early Recordings/ 1953-66

James Cotton, vcl; Harvey Simmons, t-sax; Tom Roane, b-sax; Billy Love, pno; Pat Hare, g; Kenneth Banks, bs; Houston Stokes, dms. Memphis, Tn. 7 december 1953

01. My baby

02. Straighten up baby

James Cotton, vcl; Pat Hare, g; Mose Vinson, pno; John Bowers, dms. Memphis, Tn. 14 may 1954

03. Cotton crop blues

04. Hold me in your arms

James Cotton, vcl/hca; Chris Barber, tb/g/bs; Alexis Korner, g; Keith Scott, pno. Londres, GB. 10 august 1961

05. Dealing with the Devil

06. Standing around crying

07. Slow and easy

08. Rock me mama

09. Jimmy's jump

10. Decoration day blues

11. Polly put the kettle on

12. Going down slow

James Cotton, vcl/hca. Chicago, Ill. 14 january 1962

13. Decoration day

14. Dealing with the Devil

James Cotton, vcl/hca; Paul Butterfield, hca; Elvin Bishop, g or Mike Bloomfield, g. Chicago, Ill. june 1962

15. So glad I'm leaving

16. V-8 Ford blues

17. Polly put the kettle on

18. Digging my potatoes

James Cotton, vcl/hca; Paul Butterfield, hca; Billy Boy Arnold, hca; Elvin Bishop, g or Mike Bloomfield, g. Chicago, Ill. june 1962

19. Three harp boogie

James Cotton, vcl/hca; Otis Spann, pno/vcls; James Madison, g; Muddy Waters, g; Milton Rector, bs; S.P. Leary, dms. Chicago, Ill. 21 november 1964

20. One more mile to go

21. Feelin' good

22. Dust my broom

23. Straighten up baby

24. I'm ready

James Cotton, vcl; Little Mac Simmons, hca; John Jackson, t-sax; Willie Henderson, b-sax; Detroit Jr, pno; Eddie King, g; Bob Anderson, bs; Billy Davenport, dms. Chicago, Ill. 19 september 1963

25. One more mile

26. There must be a panic on

James Cotton, vcl/hca; Otis Spann, pno; Pee Wee Madison, g; S.P. Leary, dms. Chicago, Ill. december 1965

27. Cotton crop blues

28. The blues keep falling

29. Love me or leave me

30. Rocket 88

31. West Helena blues

James Cotton, vcl/hca; Sammy Lawhorn, g; James Madison, bs; Sam Lay, dms. Chicago, Ill. 11 may 1966

32. Complete this order

33. Laying in the weeds