THE CHICAGO BLUES BOX 2
Storyville 1088620 (Eight CDs: 68:24; 63:50; 66:26; 67:41; 65:03; 60:54; 64:01; 63:17)
CD One: EDDIE TAYLOR: Opening/ Red Light/ Big Town Playboy/ Blow Wind Blow/ Down In Virginia/ Lucky Lou/ Tell Me Mama; BIG MOJO ELEM: Talk To Your Daughter/ Hide Away/ Be My Little Girl/ Dry Land No. 2*; ANDREW ‘BLUEBLOOD’ McMAHON: Red Light/ Mojo Hand; BIG VOICE ODOM: Mojo Working/ Where Are You Goin’*/ Thrill Is Gone*
CD Two: HIP LANKCHAN: You Left Me With A Broken Heart/ I’m On My Way/ Last Night/ All Your Love/ I Don’t Want No Woman/ Black Nights/ Somebody Loan Me A Dime/ Same Old Blues/ Why I Sing The Blues; EDDIE CLEARWATER: Everyday I Have The Blues/ You Don’t Have To Go/ Poison Ivy/ My Baby
CD Three: JIMMY DAWKINS: Way She Walks/ Rock Me Baby/ I Wonder Why/ Cold Sweet Blues/ Driving Wheel/ Will My Baby Home Tonight/ Big Duke’s/ Hard Road To Travel/ J.D.’s Jam/ Nature Ball/ Pretty Woman/ Ode To Billy Joe
CD Four: JIMMY JOHNSON: Long About Midnight/ Strange Things Happening/ Look On Yonder Wall/ I’m Crazy About You Baby/ Breaking Up Somebody’s Home/ Sweet Little Angel/ Three Times Chicago/ Midnight Hour/ My Own Fault/ Get Ready Here I Come/ Same Old Blues/ So Many Roads No. 2*/ As The Years Go Passing By*
CD Five: JOHN LITTLEJOHN: Dust My Broom/ Rob And Steal/ Five Long Years/ Kiddeo/ That’s All Right/ I Can’t Stay Here/ Bobby’s Rock/ Twenty Nine Ways/ So Glad You’re Mine/ All I Want/ Dream No. 2*/ All Your Love*/ Sunny Road*
CD Six: MAGIC SLIM: Buddy Buddy Friend/ You Upset Me Baby/ Born Down The Bridge (sic)/ Rock Me Baby/ Tell Me Baby/ Jumpin’ At Ma Bea’s/ I Don’t Got Over/ Tramp/ Josephines’/ As The Years Go Passing By/ Everything Gonna Be Alright/ Mary Lou
CD Seven: THE ACES AND THEIR GUESTS: Rock Me Baby/ You’re The One/ Baby What You Want Me To Do/ Someday Baby/ Off The Wall / Bobby’s Rock/ Kansas City/ Honky Tonk/ Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong/ C.C. Rider/ Sweet Home Chicago/ Hide Away/ Tribute To Little Walter/ The Ace’s Shuffle*/ Blues With A Feeling*/ Honky Tonk No. 2*
CD Eight: WILLIE KENT: I’m Not The Same Person/ Ghetto/ Dust My Broom/ I Wonder Why/ Chili Con Carne/ Blue Guitar/ Bobby’s Rock/ Tell Him He Got To Go/ Chicken Shack/ 19 Years Old No. 2*/ I Love The Woman*/ You Know I Love You* * = previously unissued
This eight CD box set’s predecessor was reviewed at length in B&R 280. These recordings were made for the French label MCM in the 1970s and Tony Burke detailed the background. This release follows the same format, drawing on the seventeen LPs the label originally issued, and adding some previously unissued material. This is Chicago club blues virtually all the way, and quite raw most of the time. It is strange to remember that Magic Slim’s first album was for this label, so too was Eddie Clearwater’s, and that they also made Jimmy Johnson’s first blues set.
Rich Kirch, who plays on the Andrew ‘Blueblood’ McMahon material and some of the Jimmy Dawkins’ tracks, recalled to me: “I know there were two years Marcelle Morgantini, her son Luc, and Didier Tricard came to Chicago to record in the South and West-side blues clubs, in 1975 and 1976. I can’t remember if I was at any of the sessions the first year because I wasn’t in the band until the second year in 1976. Jimmy Johnson was playing with Dawkins the first year in 1975 when Marcelle came to Chicago to do the sessions. The second year, in 1976, I was in Jimmy Dawkins’ Band and Jimmy was getting the sessions together and organising them with Marcelle. I was at most of those sessions. The one we did, ‘Come Back Baby’ was recorded at Big Duke’s in the afternoon on the West-side. I think the club was on Roosevelt Road. After we did Jimmy Dawkins’ session that day Jimmy’s band, myself, bass player Sylvester Boines and drummer Tyrone Centuray also recorded some songs with Andrew ‘Blueblood’ McMahon at Big Duke’s that were on side B on the record and Johnny Littlejohn’s band played on side A that was recorded at Ma Bea’s Blues club on the West-side. From what I remember, the bands just played what they do on a gig. If someone messed up a song too much, we probably would do the song over. I think Jimmy and Marcelle probably would decide what to record. Like I was saying before, Jimmy was organising things with Marcelle. What I remember, the bands pretty much played what they did on a gig”.
At the time of release, these what are now seen as extremely important releases – real blues performers in their own environment, many lesser-known names, and a ‘pure’ repertoire – were given lukewarm reviews, due to the cheap, functional packaging, and the recording quality; as Rich recalls, “They’re very raw sounding but you kind of get the idea. I remember they had pretty small compact recording equipment”. The tracks have a live feel, though many were recorded in empty clubs.
Listening to the opening Eddie Taylor tracks, the balance is off a little and they initially come across as a little messy – this is not today’s over-polished blues. Big Mojo Elem’s tracks are nicely enthusiastic, and ‘Andrew ‘Blueblood’ McMahon was a good friend of Jimmy Dawkins. “He organised that Andrew record some songs with us when we were doing Jimmy’s session. He came down to Ma Bea’s when Johnny Littlejohn was doing his sessions. He was a really nice, easy going guy”, Rich informs me. He adds, “Andrew ‘Big Voice’ Odom did his session in 1975, the year before I was in the Jimmy Dawkins Band. He did gigs with us. He was a very strong singer”. Odom had records under his own name and with Dawkins and it is no great surprise that he recorded later for Isabel. Rich again: “Didier Tricard started his own label, I think, in the late ’70s, early ’80s called Isabel Records out of France. When I was over there on tour with Jimmy Dawkins in 1981 we did a record for him called ‘Hot Wire 81’”. Isabel, probably best-known these days for Buddy Guy’s ‘The Blues Giant’ album which was later reissued by Alligator as ‘Stone Crazy’, was the heir to this series, in more ways than one. The previously unissued Willie Kent titles, actually sung by Willie James Lyons, certainly seem to overlap labels.
Eddie Clearwater is in firm blues mode – ‘Poison Ivy’ is Willie Mabon’s song, not The Coasters’ – and Hip Lankchan (as he was generally known around this time – ‘Linkchain’ came later) is tough and punchy. The notes in the rather handsome 36-page booklet make much of the contribution of Hip’s second guitarist Jimmy Miller – and listening to ‘I’m On My Way’, I can only concur! Jimmy Dawkins’ band is tight and focussed, often hitting a danceable groove, and with the leader’s instantly recognisable guitar playing to the fore – several instrumentals are included. Jimmy Johnson is another excellent singer, at this time very early in his blues career after playing r&b for most of the ’60s His covers of Wilson Pickett’s ‘Midnight Hour’ and The Temptations’ ‘Get Ready’ are among the few soul numbers here, and both credited to Johnson! Magic Slim’s cover of Lowell Fulson’s ‘Tramp’ is arguably the only other soul track of the collection.
All those Jimmys obviously left a mark, as the individual sleeve for CD five credits Jimmy Littlejohn! John Littlejohn was one of the better-known performers here, and here he plays his customary fine, professional sounding blues – not too much slide, but some very interesting song choices: Charles Brown’s ‘Sunny Road’ is a fine, extended performance, and pianist Lafayette Leake obviously enjoys it. Magic Slim? Well, it’s Slim, isn’t it – by the time the CD reaches Albert King’s ‘Don’t Burn Down The Bridge’ (the correct title), you’re hooked good and proper. Strange to think that at the time he recorded the music on this set, the Magic Man was mainly known in the U.K. from his two Ja-Wes tracks reissued on the early ’70s Beacon/Windmill budget album ‘Authentic Chicago Blues’. The Aces were doing well in France around this time, with albums for Vogue and Black & Blue, and their own sides are fine, of course, but a little older-styled and sometimes more sophisticated than much of the music here – ‘The Ace’s Shuffle’ (sic) borders on jazz. Guests Bobby King, Joe Carter, and Johnny Drummer all make valuable contributions. Singer/bassist Willie Kent and chronically under-recorded guitarist Willie James Lyons close out the proceedings in fine fashion, though the sound is a little thin. This was their debut set, though Kent went on to some level of success; Lyons died in December 1980.
With an interesting booklet housed in a long box, and each CD contained in its own black cardboard sleeve and in a moulded plastic holder, this is a recommended release of course. And if you have this set’s predecessor, you have probably bought this already.
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