CD of the Month

BARRELHOUSIN’ AROUND CHICAGO: The Legendary George Paulus 1970s Blues Recordings

JSP 2501 (Two CDs: 59:09; 53:03)

CD One: JOE CARTER: Mama Talk To Your Daughter/ You’re The One/ Rock Me; JOHN WRENCHER: Now Darlin’; BILLY BRANCH: Hoochie Coochie; SAM JOHNSON: Country Girl; MAC THOMPSON: Somethin’ Wrong; EARL PAYTON: Parkway Boogie; JAMES HENDERSON: Hey Baby; JIMMY MILLER: Somebody Have Mercy; EASY BABY: Good Mornin’ Mr. Blues; FRANK JNR: Wee Little Room; WALTER ‘BIG RED’ SMITH: Bottleneck Blues; BLIND JOE HILL; Boogie In The Dark/ She Fool Me; KANSAS CITY RED WITH EDDIE TAYLOR: Standin’ Around Cryin’/ Crawling King Snake

CD Two: LYIN’ JOE HOLLEY: Big Machine Blues/ So Cold In The USA/ Five More Numbers/ Drinkin’ Budweiser/ Moon Is Rising/ Dope Around Town/ Old Twister/ Big Leg Woman/ Early One Morning/ How Long/ Swanee River Boogie/ Monkey Face Woman/ Drunken Woman/ Three Kinds Of Woman/ Rebate Woman; JOHN LEE GRANDERSON: Lonesome Blues/ Rollin’ & Tumblin’; BLIND WILL DUKES: Terraplane Blues/ Mean Hearted Woman/ Hobo Blues

In the early 1980s, John Stedman purchased a number of recordings made by George Paulus. John released many of them on the JSP label, however those albums are long deleted. Readers who have read the interview Mike Stephenson did with John in B&R 351/352 will know that JSP’s back catalogue is extensive and is could certainly provide a comprehensive blues reissue series.

George Paulus died six years ago. He was a well-known record collector and dealer, record producer and blues music fan, who owned Barrelhouse Records and St. George Records as well as the short lived-one off labels Negro Rhythm, Kingfish, Delta Swing, Floatin’ Bridge and African Folk Society. He also contributed articles to B&R.

His Barrelhouse albums include some true post-war blues classics, notably the Big John Wrencher and Easy Baby albums and his compilations of long defunct labels such as Ora-Nelle. In the early 1990s his St. George label issued some great authentic blues and r&b recordings, notably by The El-Dorados, Big Mojo Elem, Little Mac Simmons and Taildragger as well as great rockabilly albums which are hard to find nowadays – and expensive too.

Many of the artists recorded by Paulus in the 1970s were semi-pro, playing local club gigs and making occasional 45s or albums. George decided to sell on some of the recordings he had made (issued and unissued) and thanks to John Stedman, we have most of the recording data of the tracks included here plus an idea of the track listings he had planned for releases on his own labels.

All of the tracks on the first disc are tough blues as played by combos in the Chicago bars and clubs, commencing with Joe Carter who cut his three sides in July 1976 with Big John Wrencher on harmonica, Walter ‘Big Red’ Smith on guitar and Johnny Junious on drums and issued on a JSP album called ‘Original Chicago Blues’ in 1982. From the same album are the Walter ‘Big Red’ Smith sides from March 1977 with Eddie Taylor on guitar and Frank Jnr’s ‘Little Room’ scheduled for an album called ‘Electric Chicago Blues’, as were the sides from Kansas City Red, also with Eddie Taylor – all from sometime in the 1970s.

In 1983 JSP released a Chicago harmonica set called ‘Harpin’ On It’. Big John Wrencher’s ‘Now Darlin’’ was included on that set along with Billy Branch’s ‘Hoochie Coochie (Man)’. According to ‘The Blues Discography’ third edition, the Billy Branch track appeared on the Barrelhouse LP ‘Bring Me Another Half Pint’ recorded in 1975 and released in 1976. The track was, according to ‘The Blues Discography’, purchased from Mr. Blues Records.

Paulus had a second ‘Electric Chicago Blues’ set planned (on the paperwork listed as JSP 1039) which included Sam Johnson’s ‘Country Girl’; Easy Baby’s ‘Good Mornin’ Mr. Blues’ and great tracks by Mac Thompson, Earl Payton, James Henderson and Jimmy Miller (Miller was second guitarist in Hip Linkchain’s band and worked for the post office).

One-man band Blind Joe Hill had an album on Barrelhouse issued in 1976, which Paulus notes sold out of the 1000 copies pressed and was reissued on JSP 1035 with unissued tracks. As George notes, Hill was “a very saleable artist”.

The second CD features the full Lyin’ Joe Holley album issued by JSP in 1982 and recorded by the pianist and singer in 1977. The album was recorded in The Provident Barber’s Shop in Chicago. Holley was a fine pianist and in the reprint of George’s original notes he says: “the customers were pleased to hear that old-time blues and they even asked for requests.” The two John Lee Granderson sides are great slide guitar blues, probably cut in 1969 and released on JSP in 1982 on two albums, ‘Down Home Blues’ and ‘Chicago Blues Guitar Volume 2’.

Finally, Blind Will Dukes, who Paulus says, learned guitar from Robert Johnson and “plays almost completely in that style” cut his sides here in 1975, they appeared on an album shared with Johnny Shines. George goes on to say the six Dukes sides selected are among his “best sides” and that around two hours of recordings are “available”, some of which were destined for an album called ‘Acoustic Memphis And Arkansas Country Blues’ which also had six sides by Speedy and Red, who Paulus describes as “a duo who play Memphis-style 1930s blues”.

Besides Paulus’ original notes for the Lyin’ Joe Holley album, there are discographical details and notes about the original recordings by John Stedman plus period photos from Chicago in the 1970s. 

Definitely one for fans of rough and tough Chicago blues.

Tony Burke

ALABAMA MIKE: Hip You To My Blues

Big Tone Records 246 (48:00)

Black Cadillac/ I’m Selfish/ California Blues/ Frustrate My Life/ 20% Alcohol/ Diabetic Man/ Cut That Out/ How You Want Your Rollin Done?/ V-8 Ford Blues/ Hip You To My Blues/ Stop Accusing That Woman/ I’m In Love With A Woman/ Hello Central/ Keep My Grave Clean/ I Feel So Good

It was a surprise to learn about a new release by Alabama Mike (real name Michael A. Benjamin) on Big Jon Atkinson’s new label. Alabama Mike’s earlier recordings, such as those with The Andy T Band in 2017’s ‘Double Strike,’ often displayed a gospel-rooted vocal style in the manner of Little Johnnie Taylor. 

This new release finds him in a down-home blues vein with a dose of Lightnin’ Hopkins flavour along with some tracks that evoke early ’50s Chicago style. This recording reflects Alabama Mike’s long-burning desire to ‘do a record in the classic style of early electric blues pioneers….’ 

The backing musicians on this set of retro blues include Kim Wilson on harmonica, Big Jon Atkinson and Danny Michel on guitar, Troy Sandow and Kedar Roy on bass, Joe Lempkowski on harmonica, June Core and Malachi Johnson on drums, Robert Welsh on keyboards, on retro-sounding performances.

Alabama Mike certain invests his vocals with intensity and soul. The Lightnin’ Hopkins influence can best be heard on the opening ‘Black Cadillac’ (with Atkinson on guitar) as well as the revival of Hopkins’ ‘Hello Central’ with Danny Michel on guitar, Kim Wilson on harmonica and Marty Dodson on drums lending the performance a swamp blues flavour. Danny Michel also channels Hopkins guitar on the swampy ‘California Blues,’ with choice Joe Lempkowski harmonica accompaniment.

A reworking of John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson’s ‘Cut That Out’ sounds like a down-home version of Junior Wells 1950’s recording. Kim Wilson is on harmonica, Atkinson on guitar and Dodson on drums. Welsh provides the greasy organ on ‘Diabetic Man’ with Wilson on the harp. On ‘How You Want Your Rollin Done,’ Atkinson plays some excellent T-Bone Walker-styled guitar. On Big Bill Broonzy’s ‘I Feel So Good,’ Alabama Mike delivers a strong vocal in the manner of Muddy Waters with J.B. Hutto styled slide guitar in the backing. ‘Keep My Grave Clean’ is an ingenious band reworking of what was Blind Lemon Jefferson’s most famous recording, while the cover of J.B. Hutto’s ‘Too Much Alcohol’ sticks close to the arrangement of Hutto’s Delmark recording.

A moody rendition of Willie Love’s ‘V-8 Ford’ with Atkinson and Welsh closes a release of notable down-home blues performances. There are a couple of times the backing may be a tad skeletal, but Alabama Mike’s singing and the idiomatic support result in a most entertaining blues album.

Ron Weinstock

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