November 29, 2017 – Robert Bilbo Walker Jr. was born on February 19, 1937, on the Borden Plantation in Clarksdale, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.
Walker was named after his father, Robert “Bilbo” Walker Sr., who was also nicknamed “Bilbo” — that’s how Walker Jr. acquired the nickname, which he hates. As he explains in the liner notes to Promised Land, people in his Clarksdale home would distinguish between his father and him by referring to them as Big Bilbo and Little Junior Bilbo. Later, after he began making a name for himself in Delta juke joints, Walker was called Chuck Berry Jr. Walker was a completely self-taught musician who played piano, guitar, and drums. He got his musical education thanks to his father, who would have “Little Junior Bilbo” playing piano behind a curtain at country juke joints around his native Clarksdale. Continue reading Robert Bilbo Walker 11/2017
July 6, 2017 – Melvyn “Deacon” Jones was born December 12, 1943 in Richmond Indiana. By the time he was a teenager, Deacon was proficient on trumpet and performed with his brother Harold in the high school band. Harold Jones later became a famed jazz drummer.
After graduating in 1962, Jones was a founding member of Baby Huey and the Babysitters with Johnny Ross and James Ramey. After paying a few dues in the Gary area, Deacon and the band set up shop in Chicago where they played five nights a week for five years, according to USA Today. During that time, Jones managed to further his musical education at the prestigious American Conservatory of Music.Continue reading Melvyn Deacon Jones 7/2017
June 19, 2017 – Noel Neal (James Cotton Band) was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1963. The Neal family from Baton Rouge is known nationwide as a blues family with numerous performers, Kenny probably being the most famous one.
Neal journeyed to Chicago early on where he played with James Cotton for over 30 years, touring and recording for the late Chicago blues star and harmonica virtuoso James Cotton, who also recently passed on March 16 of this year. He also recorded with his late father, Raful Neal, and his brother, Kenny Neal.Continue reading Noel Neal 6/2017
May 3, 2017 – Casey Jones (Albert Collins/Johnny Winter) was born July 26, 1939 in Nitta Yuma, Mississippi and raised in Greenville. As a kid he played with the Coleman High School band, but claimed he learned more about drumming from Little Milton’s drummer Lonnie Haynes, than from the band director
In 1956 at age 17, his sister Atlean and her husband Otis Luke enticed him with the promise of a drum kit and entry into the musician’s union, if he would move to Chicago to live with them. True to his word, they went to Frank’s Drum Shop on Wabash Ave and from there on Casey Jones played drums in Otis’s band. His first gig with Otis Luke & the Rhythm Bombers in 1956 made him $5.Continue reading Casey Jones 5/2017
April 25, 2017 – Calep Emphrey (played blues with all 3 Kings) was born on May 1, 1949 in Greenville, Mississippi. He started out playing a whole range of wind instruments such as French horn, saxophone, baritone horn and a lot of other brass instruments in the Coleman High School band while growing up. The high school band director Wynchester Davis had a band called the Green Tops, which went all around the state. He went on to play in a concert band in college at Mississippi Valley State, where he was a music major in 1967-1968.
Professionally, he started off with Little Milton about ’69 in Greenville. (Milton was from the Greenville area and Emphrey used to hang around him a lot.) Milton needed somebody to fill the drummer position and he called Calep, who admitted, “I couldn’t make no money with the French horn.” Continue reading Calep Emphrey 4/2017
March 16, 2017 – James Cotton was born on July 1, 1935 in Tunica, Mississippi. He was the youngest of eight brothers and sisters who grew up in the cotton fields working beside their mother, Hattie, and their father, Mose. On Sundays Mose was the preacher in the area’s Baptist church. Cotton’s earliest memories include his mother playing chicken and train sounds on her harmonica and for a while he thought those were the only two sounds the little instrument made. His Christmas present one year was a harmonica, it cost 15 cents, and it wasn’t long before he mastered the chicken and the train. King Biscuit Time, a 15-minute radio show, began broadcasting live on KFFA, a station just across the Mississippi River in Helena, Arkansas. The star of the show was the harmonica legend, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller). The young Cotton pressed his little ear to the old radio speaker. He recognized the harmonica sound AND discovered something – the harp did more! Continue reading James Cotton 3/2017
July 16, 2014 – Legendary blues musician Johnny Winter died in his hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland, on July 16th, 2014 at age 70. There are plenty of reasons why that’s notable — Winter was one of the first blues rock guitar virtuosos, releasing a string of popular and fiery albums in the late Sixties and early Seventies, becoming an arena-level concert draw in the process — but it’s the barest facts that remain the most inspiring.
Johnny Dawson Winter, who was born on February 23rd, 1944 in little Beaumont, Texas, afflicted with albinism and 20/400 eyesight in one eye and 20/600 in the other, made an iconic life for himself by playing the blues.
October 30, 2013 – Pete Haycock was born on March 4, 1951 in Stafford, England. He attended St.John’s Primary School, then King Edward VI Boys Grammar School and played his first gig at a miners club at the age of 12.
In 1968 at 17, as lead guitarist, vocalist he founded the Climax Chicago Blues Band along with Richard Jones on bass, guitarist-vocalist Derek Holt, keyboardist Arthur Wood, George Newsome on drums and harmonica player- vocalist Colin Cooper. Two years later they changed their name to the Climax Blues Band in 1970. Continue reading Pete Haycock 10/2013
June 23, 2013 – Bobby Bland was bornRobert Calvin Brooks in Rosemark, Tennessee on January 27, 1930.
Sometimes called “Lion of the Blues” and “Sinatra of the Blues”, Bobby Bland earned his enduring blues superstar status the hard way: without a guitar, harmonica, or any other instrument to fall back upon. All Bland had to offer was his magnificent voice, a tremendously powerful instrument in his early heyday, injected with charisma and melisma to spare. Just ask his legion of female fans, who deemed him a sex symbol late into his career.
For all his promise, Bland’s musical career ignited slowly. He was a founding member of the Beale Streeters, the fabled Memphis aggregation that also included B.B. King and Johnny Ace. Singles for Chess in 1951 (produced by Sam Phillips) and Modern the next year bombed, but that didn’t stop local DJ David Mattis from cutting Bland on a couple of 1952 singles for his fledgling Duke logo.
June 3, 2013 – Piano C Red was born Cecil Fain in Montevallo, Ala. in 1933.
His mother sang spirituals and his father made moonshine, both endeavors playing a role in his musical career. He told the Chicago Tribune’s Mary Schmich in 2006 that he traded pints of his father’s moonshine for piano lessons from the local boogie-woogie player, Fat Lily.
By age 16 he was playing in Atlanta, Georgia as James Wheeler and later took his stage name from his instrument, the red piano, and the trademark red outfits he wore onstage.
Relocating to Chicago when he was 19 he performed with the likes of Muddy Waters, B.B King, Fats Domino and Buddy Guy, before becoming a cab driver to make the money necessary to pay the bills.
February 21, 2013 – Magic Slim was born Morris Holt on August 7, 1937 in Torrance near Grenada, Mississippi. The son of sharecroppers, he followed blues greats such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf to Chicago, claiming and developing his own place in the Chicago blues scene.
He gave up the piano and turned to guitar after losing his right pinky finger in a cotton gin accident at age 13. In 1955 he moved to Chicago with his friend and mentor Magic Sam. The elder, Magic Sam/Samuel Maghett let Morris play bass in his band, and gave him his nickname Magic Slim.
However, he soon returned to Mississippi to work and got his younger brother Nick interested in playing bass.
By 1965 he was back in Chicago and in 1970 brother Nick joined him in his group, the Teardrops. Slim’s recording career began in 1966, with the song “Scufflin'”, followed by a number of singles leading into the mid 1970s.
March 8, 2012 – Buddy “Bugs” Henderson was born on October 20th 1943 in Palm Springs, California, but grew up in Tyler, Texas. At age 16 he formed a band called the Sensores and later joined Mouse and the Traps. Living in Dallas-Fort Worth during the early 1970s, he became lead guitarist for the blues/rock band Nitzinger before one-hit pop wonder Bruce Channel recruited him into a band.
He established his own band the Shuffle Kings, and spent his entire working life as musician performing from Fort Worth clubs and all over the world, forging and establishing a large cult following. He released 18 albums, while his guitarplaying style impressed musicians such as Eric Clapton, Freddie King, Johnny Winter, Johnny Hyland and Ted Nugent.
March 14, 2012 – Eddie King (Blues Guitarist) was born Edward Lewis Davis Milton on April 21st 1938 in Lineville, near Talladega, Alabama. His parents were both musical: his father played the guitar, and his mother was a gospel singer. After his mother died in 1950 he moved to Kentucky with some of his brothers and sisters, and then on to Chicago in 1954 with an uncle. His earliest musical influences were his parents. His dad played guitar and his mom sang. “My dad played country blues just like John Lee Hooker.
For a blues musician to change his surname to King to get attention may seem a bit on the ludicrous side, kind of like an actor or actress changing his or her name to Barrymore. But this is just what guitarist Eddie Milton did when he transformed himself into Eddie King, becoming in the process the least well-known of the blues guitar King dynasty; despite his tireless efforts as a sideman with many blues greats, as well as a career as a bandleader during the later part of his life. He was born Edward Lewis Davis Milton in Alabama, eventually gravitating toward the busy blues scene of Chicago’s South and West Side in the late ’50s and ’60s. His earliest musical influences were his parents, including a father who apparently played country blues guitar in the John Lee Hooker style. His mother was also a blues and gospel singer.
As a youngster, he was too young to get into blues clubs, but learned guitar by smushing his face up against the windows, watching the guitarists in action, memorizing the patterns and runs he saw on the fret board, then finally sprinting home to see if he could remember any of it. Milton’s musical peers were players from the second generation of Windy City bluesmen who came up on the sounds of artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Little Walter. Some of these associates, such as Luther Allison, Magic Sam, Junior Wells, and Freddie King, became fairly big on the international blues scene; while others, such as the wonderful Eddie C. Campbell or Milton, became better known as typical examples of high quality blues artists that were basically laboring in obscurity.
A fairly short fellow, he learned to get around the taller and sometimes somewhat better guitar competition by learning to be a showman. “Little Eddie” was actually his first stage name, obviously leading to confusion with the rhythm & blues artist Little Milton. When he began picking in a style heavily influenced by B.B. King, Little Eddie King became first a nickname only used by friends, but evolved into a stage name as well. Another diminutive bluesman, Little Mac Simmons, gave him his first big break, although the reason for the hiring might have had more to do with not wanting to have any taller sidemen on-stage than his musical ability. Eddie King’s first recordings were with bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon, leading to a second guitar position on several Sonny Boy Williamson II sides in 1960.
The next major period in his career was as lead guitarist with Koko Taylor. He was with this fiery blues singer for more than two decades. In 1969, he and bassist Bob Stroger formed Eddie King & the Kingsmen, a group that worked together off and on for the next 15 years, at first overlapping with the Taylor stint. From the early ’80s onward, he had been based out of Peoria, IL.
Besides his exciting guitar work, King is also known as a superior soul shouter, again in a style modeled after the singing of B.B. King. He presented a mixed bag from blues history, ranging from modern urban blues to the type of country blues he grew up with. He also ventured into the Southern soul genre, and would mix up the material of a given gig based on what the audience is responding best to. Young players such as bassist Jamie Jenkins, drummer Kevin Gray, and Doug Daniels doubling on sax and keyboards were regular members of his combos. As a bandleader, King demonstrated that he may have been a late bloomer as a songwriter, but that in blues it is never too late to come up with good material.”
The Swamp Bees was the name of his own group since the ’90s, and this outfit has swarmed onto stages at blues venues nationally and internationally and his output incorporated Chicago blues, country blues, blues shouter, and soul.
Shy, but with a lots of soulful feeling and no wasted notes, he played a variety of styles from the urban blues of Albert King, to the some county blues, to southern soul, to a more sophisticated B.B. King style and pulled it all together with an approach that quickly earned your respect. He also liked to mix up his songs for the crowd, playing blues, soul and R&B depending on how he was reading the audience at the moment.
Into his 60s, he still was playing with the energy of a young man. His first solo record finally came out when others his age were busy concentrating on collecting their senior citizen’s benefits. The album, The Blues Has Got Me (1987), was issued by the Netherlands-based record label Black Magic and later re-released by Double Trouble. It featured one of his sisters, Mae Bee May, on vocals.
In 1997, King recorded the well-received but obscure Another Cow’s Dead album on a small label co-owned by a belly dancer. This album won a W.C. Handy Award for best comeback album of the year. It was arranged by Lou Marini. His songwriting credits include “Kitty Kat”, described by one music journalist as “hilarious”.
King died in Peoria, Illinois on March 14, 2012, at the age of 73. In October 2012, the Killer Blues Headstone Project, a nonprofit organization, placed a headstone on King’s unmarked grave at the Lutheran Cemetery in Peoria.
September 26, 2011 – Harry Muskee, (June 10, 1941 – Sept 26, 2011) better known as leadsinger of the legendary Dutch Blues band “Cuby and the Blizzards” was born in the northern town of Assen in 1941. His father was a German POW at the time of his birth. As a toddler, Muskee reportedly once shouted at a German officer in a hair salon “Wait ’til my father gets home – he’ll get you.”
His father returned to the Netherlands when Muskee was four years old. His mother developed multiple sclerosis soon after, leaving Muskee to be raised mainly by his grandmother. His mother died in 1961. Muskee got to the hospital too late to say goodbye, which, he said, left him with a lingering sadness.
He made his breakthrough in the music scene after the death of his grandmother a year later.
In high school he came into contact with jazz and Dixieland music. Together with the brothers Henk and Jaap Hilbrandie he founded the band The Mixtures. From this band emerged later on the ‘Old Fashioned Jazz Group’. This band mostly played at school dances in his hometown.
Through listening to the American Forces Network radio station – for U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany – Muskee came into contact with blues music. When he discovered the album Live at Newport by John Lee Hooker, he decided that he also wanted to make this kind of music.
Harry Muskee and Eelco Gelling are the foundation of Cuby & The Blizzards. As singer and guitarist of The Mixtures, Harry performs songs of The Everly Brothers and other bands, before playing the contra bass in the Old Fashioned Jazz Group. (see also the guestpage) Harry is first introduced to jazz and blues through listening to the American discjockey Wilis Conover from the army stations like American Forces Network and The Voice of America on an old radio Eelco Gelling is guitarist in the Rocking Hurricanes, later The Rocking Strings, with Hans Kinds (rhythm guitar), Wim Kinds (Drums) and Nico Schröder (bass). Their repertoire mainly consisted of Shadow-instrumentals and the group even made two records: “Autumn Leaves” and an EP “Black Rock”. The musicians meet each other on a stage in Drenthe and it is only a matter of time before Harry starts singing Elvis Presley covers with the Rocking Strings. In 1964, Willy Middel (bass, ex-Sinister Silhouettes) replaces Nico Schröder, who is not allowed to play on Sundays. After Dick Beekman (drums) replaces Wim Kinds, Harry Muskee completes the line-up .
In 1965 The Rocking Strings become Cuby & The Blizzards. ‘Cuby’ after the neighbour’s dog, and ‘Blizzards’ is randomly picked out of an English dictionary. It is the start of a legend. Muskee and Gelling take the musical lead and introduce Holland to the blues: music with emotion.
Singer Harry (“Cuby”) Muskee and leadguitarist Eelco Gelling, both working (as a reporter and a photographer) with a local newspaper in Assen, were forced to turn professional after one year as three of the bandmembers were fired from their jobs, because of their long hair.
As the five excellent musicians refused to do any commercial types of music, they struggled almost three years for recognition. Their music was highly influenced by the Chicago blues. Most of their tunes were been composed by Harry Muskee and Eelco Gelling, though the group also recorded songs by a.o. John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Eddie Boyd and Lightnin’ Hopkins.
Over time Muskee became known as the man who brought the blues to the Netherlands. As lead singer in Cuby and the Blizzards, his raucous voice shot to the Top 40 with hits like Window of myEyes,Another Day Another Road and Appleknockers Flophouse.
Cuby & the Blizzards became one of the most in demand groups in Europe in between 1965 and 1972.The group played on International Festivals in Plumpton (England), Essen, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt (Germany), Prague (Czechoslovakia), Bilzen and Turnhout (Belgium). At these Festivals Cuby & the Blizzards were on stage with international top-groups like The Fugs, The Nice, John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac, The Mothers of Invention, The Spencer Davis Group, The Small Faces, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jethro Tull, etc. After the first British tour ( October 3-13 ’68), the group also toured in Sweden, Poland, Belgium and Germany. On stage they produced exactly the sound and feel as on their records. All members became much-in demand session-musicians for recordings, radio and TV. As a group they accompanied a.o. BB King, Van Morrison, John Mayall, Alexis Korner and Eddie Boyd.
The band opened for Fleetwood Mac in 1969 when they toured the Netherlands. Van Morrison, John Mayall, Alexis Korner, they all visited Muskee on his farm in the northern Dutch village of Grolloo, where the Blizzards lived. Critics say Muskee’s music reflects the rawness and simplicity of his rural roots.
In the 1970s, the band that also incorporated monster guitarist Eelco Gelling and frontman keyboards player Herman Brood, split up when members claimed that Muskee was too dictatorial as band leader.
Cuby and the Blizzards won several music awards. They reformed in the early 1990s and Muskee surprised his fans in 2009 by releasing Cats Lost, the band’sfirst studio album for 11 years.
August 29, 2011 – David “Honeyboy” Edwards American blues guitarist and singer, born in Shaw, Mississippi on June 28th 1915. At 14 he he left home to travel with bluesman Big Joe Williams.
Honeyboy was a part of many of the seminal moments of the blues. As Honeyboy writes in “The World Don’t Own Me Nothing”, “…it was in ’29 when Tommy Johnson come down from Crystal Springs, Mississippi. He was just a little guy, tan colored, easy-going; but he drank a whole lot. At nighttime, we’d go there and listen to Tommy Johnson play.” Honeyboy continues, ” Listening to Tommy, that’s when I really learned something about how to play guitar.” Honeyboy’s life has been intertwined with almost every major blues legend, including Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Big Joe Williams, Rice “Sonny Boy Williamson” Miller, Howlin’ Wolf, Peetie Wheatstraw, Sunnyland Slim, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Big Walter, Little Walter, Magic Sam, Muddy Waters, and … well, let’s just say the list goes on darn near forever!
He performed with and was a friend of blues legend Robert Johnson, the King of the Delta Blues, and was reportedly present on the night Johnson drank poisoned whiskey which eventually killed him three days later. The two traveled together, performing on street corners and at picnics, dances and fish fries during the 1930s.
“We would walk through the country with our guitars on our shoulders, stop at people’s houses, play a little music, walk on,” Mr. Edwards said in an interview with the blues historian Robert Palmer, recalling his peripatetic years with Johnson. “We could hitchhike, transfer from truck to truck, or, if we couldn’t catch one of them, we’d go to the train yard, ’cause the railroad was all through that part of the country then.” He added, “Man, we played for a lot of peoples.
On Saturday, somebody like me or Robert Johnson would go into one of these little towns, play for nickels and dimes. And sometimes, you know, you could be playin’ and have such a big crowd that it would block the whole street. Then the police would come around, and then I’d go to another town and where I could play at. But most of the time, they would let you play. Then sometimes the man who owned a country store would give us something like a couple of dollars to play on a Saturday afternoon. We could hitchhike, transfer from truck to truck, or if we couldn’t catch one of them, we’d go to the train yard, ’cause the railroad was all through that part of the country then…we might hop a freight, go to St. Louis or Chicago. Or we might hear about where a job was paying off – a highway crew, a railroad job, a levee camp there along the river, or some place in the country where a lot of people were workin’ on a farm. You could go there and play and everybody would hand you some money. I didn’t have a special place then. Anywhere was home. Where I do good, I stay. When it gets bad and dull, I’m gone.”
American music roots Folklorist Alan Lomax recorded David in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1942 for the Library of Congress, recording 15 album sides of music. The songs included “Wind Howlin’ Blues” and “The Army Blues”. He did not record again commercially until 1951, when he recorded “Who May Be Your Regular Be” for Arc Records under the name of Mr Honey. Honeyboy also cut “Build A Cave” as ‘Mr. Honey’ for Artist.
Having moved to Chicago in the early fifties, Honeyboy played small clubs and street corners with Floyd Jones, Johnny Temple, and Kansas City Red. In 1953, Honeyboy recorded several songs for Chess that remained un-issued until “Drop Down Mama” was included in an anthology release. He claims to have written several well-known blues songs including “Long Tall Woman Blues” and “Just Like Jesse James”. His discography for the 1950s and 1960s amounts to nine songs from seven sessions.
In 1972, Honeyboy met Michael Frank, and the two soon became fast friends. In 1976, they hit the North Side Blues scene as The Honeyboy Edwards Blues Band, as well as performing as a duo on occasion. Michael founded Earwig Records, and in 1979 Honeyboy and his friends Sunnyland Slim, Kansas City Red, Floyd Jones, and Big Walter Horton recorded “Old Friends”. From 1974 to 1977, he recorded material for a full length LP, I’ve Been Around, released in 1978.
Honeyboy’s early Library of Congress performances and more recent recordings were combined on “Delta Bluesman”, released by Earwig in 1992.
His release, Roamin and Ramblin, on the Earwig Music label, featured Honeyboy’s old school guitar and vocals – fresh takes on old gems and first time release of historic recordings. New 2007 sessions with harmonica greats Bobby Rush, Billy Branch and Johnny “Yard Dog” Jones, previously unreleased 1975 studio recordings of Honeyboy and Big Walter Horton, and circa 1976 concert tracks — solo and with Sugar Blue. Michael Frank, Paul Kaye, Rick Sherry and Kenny Smith also play on the album on various tracks. Honeyboy and Bobby Rush also tell some short blues tales.
David Honeyboy Edwards, the “Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen” continued his rambling life, touring the world well into his 90s, only just retiring July 17th 2011. A little over a month later he passed away from heart failure on August 29, 2011 at the age of 96.
He was inducted in 1996 into the Blues Hall of Fame.
Honeyboy was awarded a Grammy Award in 2008 for Best Traditional Blues Album, on which he appeared with Robert Lockwood, Henry Townsend and Pinetop Perkins and in 2010 was warded a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement.
March 23, 2010 – Marva Wright was born March 20th 1948 in New Orleans Louisiana. Marva sang blues all her life, starting as a child at home and in church, but she didn’t start her professional career as a blues singer until 1987, almost 40 years old, when she began singing on Bourbon Street and became the powerhouse of New Orleans’ blues and gospel scene. Even then, she only began singing as a way to support her family with a second job.
Early in 1989 during a live set at Tipitina’s in New Orleans, Wright made her first recording, Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean and made her debut on national television in 1991, when her hometown was the setting for a special that revolved around the Super Bowl where she met CBS news anchorman Ed Bradley, who thought at that time that she only sang Gospel.
June 3, 2009 – Koko Taylor was born Cora Walton on September 28, 1928 on a farm near Memphis, Tennessee. Her daddy was a sharecropper. She lived with her parents and five brothers and sisters in a “shotgun shack” with neither electricity nor running water. Although never professional singers, her parents used to sing enthusiastically while working the cotton fields, and she began to sing gospel in church. She also soaked up the blues played on local radio, which she and her siblings would surreptitiously perform with improvised home-made instruments, despite their father’s opposition.
By the time she was 11, both her parents had died and she too was forced to work in the cotton fields. But growing up, she and her five brothers and sisters had amused themselves by singing the blues, accompanying themselves on homemade instruments. (Their father did not discourage them, although he would have rather they sang gospel music.) Continue reading Koko Taylor 6/2009
January 5, 2009 – Bluzman Taylor was born Sam Willis Taylor Jr. on October 25th 1934 in Crichton, a suburb of Mobile, Alabama. Taylor began singing gospel at the age of three. His Long Island connection began in 1957, during his service in the Air Force.
Widely known as a jump blues songwriter and performer, he wrote songs that have been recorded by everyone from Elvis Presley and Son Seals to DMX and EPMD . Jump blues is an up-tempo blues usually played by small groups and featuring saxophone or brass instruments.
July 3, 2008 – ColinCooper (Climax Blues Band) was born on October 7th, 1939 in Stafford, England.
He grew up in Stafford and began playing the harmonica as a child. Aged 12 he switched to clarinet before mastering guitar, flute and saxophone. His initial influences were American jazz musicians and in 1963 he formed the Climax Jazz Band. He first recorded in 1965 as vocalist for the Hipster Image. Their Decca single Can’t Let Her Go/Make Her Mine was not a 60s hit, yet when Make Her Mine was used to advertise Levi jeans in Japan in 1999, the song became a hit across much of Asia.
April 15, 2008 – Sean Costello. Born in Philadelphia on April 16, 1979, Sean was a beautiful and precocious baby who walked, talked and read at an incredibly early age. His interest in music was evident as early as the age of 2, and after he moved to Atlanta at age 9, he began playing guitar. While his early influences were hard rock bands, he soon discovered the blues after picking up a Howlin’ Wolf tape in a bargain bin at a local record store. Sean never looked back. Soon local Atlanta bluesman Felix Reyes took Sean under his wing, and the rest is history.
July 26, 2007 –Uncle John Turner – Unc to his friends– was born and raised in Port Arthur Texas, hometown of Janis Joplin as well, on August 20th 1944. He was one of the founders of the blues-rock style of drumming and therefore a Texas legend.
Uncle John Turner was born and raised in Port Arthur, Texas. He first played drums with Jerry LaCroix. Then Unc met the Winter brothers and performed with them a few times as a substitute. In 1968, Unc convinced Johnny to try a full blown blues band and sent for his friend Tommy Shannon to play bass. This group quickly got natonal recognition and began making records and shortly after that played Woodstock, with Edgar Winter as the fourth member.
June 26, 2006 – Johnny Jenkins was born the son of a day laborer on March 5, 1939 east of Macon, Georgia in a rural area called Swift Creek. On the battery powered radio, he was drawn to hillbilly music and first heard the sounds of blues and classic R&B artists like Bill Doggett, Bullmoose Jackson, and others.
Jenkins built his first guitar out of a cigar box and rubber bands when he was nine, and began playing at a gas station for tips. He played it left-handed and upside down (like Hendrix), and this practice continued after his older sister bought him a real guitar a couple of years later. He left school in seventh grade to take care of his ailing mother and by 16 had turned to music full time.
He started out with a small blues band called the Pinetoppers that played the college circuit and first heard Redding at a talent show at a Macon theater. At one college event with the Pinetoppers, he met Walden, a white student at Macon’s Mercer University who was attracted to black rhythm-and-blues music. Besides working as Mr. Jenkins’s manager, Walden co-founded the legendary Southern rock label Capricorn Records, which produced Jenkins two albums “Ton-Ton Macoute!” and “Blessed Blues.”
March 7, 2006 – Farka Touré was born Ali Ibrahim Touré in 1939 in the village of Kanau, on the banks of the Niger River in the cercle of Gourma Rharous in the northwestern Malian region of Tombouctou.
His family moved to the nearby village of Niafunké when he was still an infant. He was the tenth son of his mother but the only one to survive past infancy. “The name I was given was Ali Ibrahim, but it’s a custom in Africa to give a child a strange nickname if you have had other children who have died”, Touré was quoted as saying in a biography on his Record Label, World Circuit Records. His nickname, “Farka”, chosen by his parents, means “donkey”, an animal admired for its tenacity and stubbornness: “Let me make one thing clear. I’m the donkey that nobody climbs on!” He was descended from the ancient military force known as the Arma, and was ethnically tied to the Songrai (Songhai) and Peul peoples of northern Mali.
November 20, 2005 – Christopher Becker Whitley was born August 31, 1960, in Houston, Texas to a restless, artistic couple: His mother was a sculptress and painter; his father worked as an art director in a series of advertising jobs. As a family, they traveled through the Southwest, with many of the images the young boy absorbed finding their way later into songs. He once described his parents’ music taste as formed “by race radio in the South.” The real deal — Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf — seeped into their son’s soul, eventually leading to Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix.
Chris’s parents divorced when he was 11 years old, and he moved with his mother to a small cabin in Vermont. It was there that he learned to play guitar. Hearing Johnny Winter’s “Dallas” was the seed for what would develop as Chris’s keening instrumental style.
August 4, 2005 – Little Milton was bornJames Milton Campbell on September 7, 1934, in the small Delta town of Inverness, Mississippi, and grew up in Greenville. (He would later legally drop the “James” after learning of a half-brother with the same name.)
His father Big Milton, a farmer, was a local blues musician, and Milton also grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry radio program. At age 12, he began playing the guitar and saved up money from odd jobs to buy his own instrument from a mail-order catalog.
By 15, he was performing for pay in local clubs and bars, influenced chiefly by T-Bone Walker but also by proto-rock & roll jump blues shouters.
June 10, 2004 – Ray Charles Robinson was born September 23, 1930 and became an American singer-songwriter, musician and composer sometimes referred to as “The Genius”.
Ray Charles, a Grammy-winning bluesman/crooner who blended gospel and blues in such crowd-pleasers as “What’d I Say” and heartfelt ballads like “Georgia on My Mind” died from liver failure on Thursday, June 10, 2004 at age 73.
Charles died at his Beverly Hills home surrounded by family and friends, said spokesman Jerry Digney.
Charles last public appearance was alongside Clint Eastwood on April 30, when the city of Los Angeles designated the singer’s studios, built 40 years ago in central Los Angeles, as a historic landmark. Continue reading Ray Charles 6/2004
February 12, 2000 – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (I Put a Spell on You) was born July 18th 1929 in Cleveland Ohio. Hawkins studied classical piano as a child and learned guitar in his twenties. His initial goal was to become an opera singer (Hawkins has cited Paul Robeson as his musical idol in interviews), but when his initial ambitions failed he began his career as a conventional blues singer and pianist. Hawkins was also an avid and formidable boxer. In 1949, he was the middleweight boxing champion of Alaska. In 1951, he joined guitarist Tiny Grimes’s band, and was subsequently featured on some of Grimes’s recordings. When Hawkins became a solo performer, he often performed in a stylish wardrobe of leopard skins, red leather and wild hats.
As a singer, songwriter and actor he was famed chiefly for his powerful, operatic vocal delivery, and wildly theatrical performances of songs such as “I Put a Spell on You”. He sometimes used macabre props onstage, making him an early pioneer of shock rock.
January 21, 1999 – Tony Russell “Charles” Brown was born in Texas City on September 13, 1922. Brown demonstrated his love of music as a child and received a classical music training on the piano. He graduated from Central High School of Galveston, Texas in 1939 and Prairie View A&M College in 1942 with a degree in chemistry. He then became a chemistry teacher at George Washington Carver High School of Baytown, Texas, a mustard gas worker at the Pine Bluff Arsenal at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and an apprentice electrician at a shipyard in Richmond, California before settling in Los Angeles in 1943.
In Los Angeles, the great influx of blacks created an integrated nightclub scene in which black performers tended to minimize the rougher blues elements of their style. The blues club style of a light rhythm bass and right-hand tinkling of the piano and smooth vocals became popular, epitomized by the jazz piano of Nat King Cole. When Cole left Los Angeles to perform nationally, his place was taken by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, featuring Charles Brown’s gentle piano and vocals.
His style dominated the Southern California club scene during the 40s and 50s, he influenced such performers as Floyd Dixon, Cecil Gant, Ivory Joe Hunter, Ray Charles, Percy Mayfield and Johnny Ace. On February 1st 1946 “Driftin’ Blues,” by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, enters the R&B chart. Written and sung by Charles the song reached No.2 and remains on the R&B chart for half a year, a significant milestone of the early postwar blues, it also received ‘Cashbox’ magazine’s award for R&B record of the year. This was the first of a string of hits for the Three Blazers.
Charles had his first solo hit in January 1949 with “Get Yourself Another Fool,” it reaches No.4 on the R&B chart, quickly followed by “Trouble Blues” which topped the charts for 15 weeks. His 1951 hit “Black Night” topped the R&B charts for 14 weeks. Over a two-year period, Charles’ two biggest hits occupied the No.1 spot for a combined 29 weeks, a phenomenal feat.
His chart hit “Please Come Home for Christmas” in Dec 1960, has been covered by dozens of artists like many of his other songs.
He began a recording and performing career again, under the musical direction of guitarist Danny Caron, to greater success than he had achieved since the 1950s. Other members of Charles’ touring ensemble included Clifford Solomon on tenor saxophone, Ruth Davies on bass and Gaylord Birch on drums. Several records received Grammy Award nominations, and in the 1980s he made a series of appearances at New York City nightclub Tramps. As a result of these appearances he signed a new recording contract with Blue Side Records and recorded One More for the Road in three days. Blue Side Records closed soon after but distribution was picked up by Alligator Records. Soon after the success of One More for the Road, Bonnie Raitt helped usher in a Charles Brown comeback tour. His last studio album ‘So Goes Love’, was released in May 1998.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2 months after his death.
Brown died of congestive heart failure in 1999 in Oakland, California at age 76.
January 15, 1998 –Junior Wells was bornAmos Blakemore on December 9th 1934.
There is dispute however whether he was born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised in West Memphis, Arkansas, or that his birth was in West Memphis, Arkansas. Initially taught by his cousin, Junior Parker, and Sonny Boy Williamson II, Wells learned how to play the harmonica by the age of seven with surprising skill. He moved to Chicago in 1948 with his mother after her divorce and began sitting in with local musicians at house parties and taverns.
Wild and rebellious but needing an outlet for his talents, he began performing with The Aces (guitarist brothers Dave and Louis Myers and drummer Fred Below) and developed a more modern amplified harmonica style influenced by Little Walter. In 1952, he made his first recordings, when he replaced Little Walter in Muddy Waters’ band and appeared on one of Muddy’s sessions for Chess Records in 1952.
His first recordings as a band leader were made in the following year for States Records. In the later 1950s and early 1960s, he also recorded singles for Chief Records and its Profile Records subsidiary, including “Messin’ with the Kid”, “Come on in This House”, and “It Hurts Me Too”, which would remain in his repertoire throughout his career. His 1960 Profile single “Little by Little” (written by Chief owner and producer Mel London) reached #23 in the Billboard R&B chart, making it the first of two Wells’ singles to enter the chart.
Wells’ album Hoodoo Man Blues (1965) on Delmark Records featured Buddy Guy on guitar. The two worked with the Rolling Stones on several occasions in the 1970s. His album South Side Blues Jam came out in 1971) and On Tap in 1975. His 1996 release Come on in This House includes slide guitarists, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Derek Trucks, and others.[Wells made an appearance in the film Blues Brothers 2000, the sequel to The Blues Brothers, which was released in 1998.]
From Wells’ “Hoodoo Man Blues” album cover Junior gives this story: “I went to this pawnshop downtown and the man had a harmonica priced at $2.00. I got a job on a soda truck… played hookey from school … worked all week and on Saturday the man gave me a dollar and a half. A dollar and a half! For a whole week of work. I went to the pawnshop and the man said the price was two dollars. I told him I had to have that harp. He walked away from the counter – left the harp there. So I laid my dollar-and-a-half on the counter and picked up the harp. When my trial came up, the judge asked me why I did it. I told him I had to have that harp. The judge asked me to play it and when I did he gave the man the 50 cents and hollered “Case dismissed!” (1948)
In 1997 Wells began to have serious health problems. He was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer and suffered a heart attack while undergoing treatment, which sent him into a coma. in the Fall. Sadly Wells stayed in the coma until he passed away in Chicago on January 15, 1998.
December 19, 1997 – Jimmie Rogers was born Jay Arthur Lane in Ruleville, Mississippi on June 3, 1924. Raised in Atlanta, St.Louis and Memphis, he adopted his stepfather’s surname Rogers. He learned to play the harmonica with his childhood friend Snooky Pryor and as a teenager he took up the guitar.
Big Bill Broonzy, Joe Willie Wilkins, and Robert Lockwood all influenced him, the latter two when he passed through Helena. He started playing professionally in his late teens with Robert Lockwood Jr. in East St. Louis, Illinois .
Rogers then moved to Chicago in the mid-1940s. By 1946, he had recorded as a harmonica player and singer for the Harlem record label, run by J. Mayo Williams. Rogers’s name however did not appear on the record, which was mislabeled as the work of Memphis Slim and His Houserockers.
In that same year he began playing professionally, gigging with Sonny Boy Williamson, Sunnyland Slim, and Broonzy.
Rogers was playing harp with guitarist Blue Smitty when Muddy Waters joined them. When Smitty split, Little Walter was welcomed into the configuration and Rogers switched over to second guitar and as a direct consequence the entire post-war Chicago blues genre felt the stylistic earthquake that instantly followed.
Rogers made his recorded debut as a leader in 1947 for the tiny Ora-Nelle logo, but then saw his efforts for Regal and Apollo go unissued. Those labels’ monumental errors in judgment were the gain of Leonard Chess, who recognized the comparatively smooth-voiced Rogers’ potential as a blues star in his own right. (He first played with Muddy Waters on an Aristocrat 78 in 1949 and remained his indispensable rhythm guitarist on wax into 1955.)
With Walter and bassist Big Crawford laying down support, Rogers’ debut Chess single in 1950, “That’s All Right,” has earned standard status after countless covers, but his version still reigns supreme. Rogers’ artistic quality was remarkably high while at Chess. “The World Is in a Tangle,” “Money, Marbles and Chalk,” “Back Door Friend,” “Left Me with a Broken Heart,” “Act Like You Love Me,” and the 1954 rockers “Sloppy Drunk” and “Chicago Bound” are essential early-’50s Chicago blues.
In 1955, Rogers left Muddy Waters to venture out as a bandleader, cutting another gem, “You’re the One,” for Chess. He made his only appearance on Billboard’s R&B charts in early 1957 with the driving “Walking by Myself,” which boasted a stunning harp solo from Big Walter Horton (a last-second stand-in for no-show Good Rockin’ Charles). The tune itself was an adaptation of a T-Bone Walker tune, “Why Not,” that Rogers had played rhythm guitar on when Walker cut it for Atlantic.
By 1957, blues was losing favor at Chess, the label reaping the rewards of rock and roll via Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. Rogers’ platters slowed to a trickle, though his 1959 Chess farewell, “Rock This House,” ranked with his most exciting outings (Reggie Boyd’s light-fingered guitar wasn’t the least of its charms).
In the early 1960s Rogers briefly worked as a member of Howling Wolf’s band, before quitting the music business altogether for almost a decade. He worked as a taxicab driver and owned a clothing store, which burned down in the 1968 Chicago riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Rogers gradually began performing in public again, and in 1971, when fashions made him somewhat popular in Europe, he began occasionally touring and recording, including a 1977 session with Waters. By 1982, Rogers was again a full-time solo artist. He continued touring and recording albums until his death.
He returned to the studio in 1972 for Leon Russell’s Shelter logo, cutting his first LP, Gold-Tailed Bird (with help from the Aces and Freddie King). There were a few more fine albums – notably Ludella, a 1990 set for Antone’s – but Rogers never fattened his discography as much as some of his contemporaries did.
He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1995.
Rogers died on December 19, 1997 from colon cancer. At the time of his death, he was working on an all-star project featuring contributions from Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards; upon its completion, the disc was issued posthumously in early 1999 under the title Blues, Blues, Blues.
August 12, 1997 – Luther Allison (blues great) was born on August 17, 1939 in Widener, Arkansas. He was the 14th of 15 children, the son of cotton farmers. His parents moved to Chicago when he was in his early teens, but he had a solid awareness of blues before he left Arkansas, as he played organ in the church and learned to sing gospel in Widener as well. Allison recalled that his earliest awareness of blues came via the family radio in Arkansas, which his dad would play at night. Allison recalls listening to both the Grand Ole Opry and B.B. King on the King Biscuit Show on Memphis’ WDIA. Although he was a talented baseball player and had begun to learn the shoemaking trade in Chicago after high school, it wasn’t long before Allison began to focus more of his attention on playing blues guitar. Allison had been hanging out in blues clubs all through high school, and with his brother’s encouragement, he honed his string-bending skills and powerful, soul-filled vocal technique.
February 16, 1996 – Walter Brownie McGhee was born on November 30, 1915 in Knoxville, Tennessee and grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee.
As a child of about four he contracted polio, which incapacitated his leg. His brother Granville “Sticks” or “Stick” McGhee, who also later became a musician and composer of the famous song, “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-dee,” was nicknamed for pushing young Brownie around in a cart. His father, George McGhee, was a factory worker known around University Avenue for playing guitar and singing. Brownie’s uncle made him a guitar from a tin marshmallow box and a piece of board. McGhee spent much of his youth immersed in music, singing with local harmony group the Golden Voices Gospel Quartet and teaching himself to play guitar. He also played five string banjo, ukulele and studied piano. A March of Dimes-funded leg operation enabled McGhee to walk.
At age 22, Brownie McGhee became a traveling musician, working in the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and befriending Blind Boy Fuller, whose guitar playing influenced him greatly. After Fuller’s death in 1941, J. B. Long of Columbia Records had McGhee adopt his mentor’s name, branding him “Blind Boy Fuller No. 2.” By that time, McGhee was recording for Columbia’s subsidiary Okeh Records in Chicago, but his real success came after he moved to New York in 1942, when he teamed up with Sonny Terry, whom he had known since 1939 when Sonny was Blind Boy Fuller’s harmonica player. The pairing was an overnight success; as well as recording, they toured together until around 1980. As a duo, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee did most of their work from 1958 until 1980, spending 11 months of each year touring, and recording dozens of albums.
Despite their later fame as “pure” folk artists playing for white audiences, in the 1940s Terry and McGhee also attempted to be successful black recording performers, fronting a jump blues combo with honking saxophone and rolling piano, variously calling themselves “Brownie McGhee and his Jook House Rockers” or “Sonny Terry and his Buckshot Five,” often with Champion Jack Dupree and Big Chief Ellis. They also appeared in the original Broadway productions of Finian’s Rainbow and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
During the blues revival of the 1960s, Terry and McGhee were very popular on the concert and music festival circuits, occasionally adding new material but usually remaining faithful to their roots and their audience.
Late in his life, McGhee began appearing in small film or TV roles. With Sonny Terry, he appeared in the 1979 Steve Martin comedy The Jerk. In 1987, McGhee gave a small but memorable performance as ill-fated blues singer Toots Sweet in the supernatural thriller movie, Angel Heart. In his review of Angel Heart, critic Roger Ebert singled out McGhee for praise, declaring that he delivered a “performance that proves [saxophonist] Dexter Gordon isn’t the only old musician who can act.” McGhee appeared in a 1988 episode of “Family Ties” titled “The Blues, Brother” in which he played fictional blues musician Eddie Dupre, as well as a 1989 episode of Matlock entitled “The Blues Singer.”
Happy Traum, a former guitar student of Brownie’s, edited a blues guitar instruction guide and songbook for him. Using a tape recorder, Traum had McGhee instruct and, between lessons, talk about his life and the blues. Guitar Styles of Brownie McGhee was published in New York in 1971. The autobiographical section features Brownie talking about growing up, his musical beginnings, and a history of the early blues period (1930s onward).
One of McGhee’s final concert appearances was at the 1995 Chicago Blues Festival.
McGhee died from stomach cancer in February 1996 in Oakland, California, at age 80.
July 13, 1994 – Eddie Boyd (Blues Musician) was born on November 25th 1914 near Clarksdale, on Stovall’s Plantation, Mississippi. He moved to Memphis where he formed his Dixie Rhythm Boys, after which he relocated to Chicago in 1941.
In the ’50s he wrote and recorded the hit songs “Five Long Years”, “24 Hours”, and “Third Degree”. In 1965 Eddie toured Europe with Buddy Guy’s band as part of the American Folk Blues Festival.
Later he toured and recorded with Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. Tired of racial discrimination he experienced in the United States, he first moved to Belgium, where he recorded with the Dutch band, Cuby and the Blizzards, then in 1970 he settled in Finland. He continued to record 10 more blues albums, and played at his last blues concert in 1984. After which he performed only gospel music.
He died in Helsinki, Finland on July 13, 1994, just a few months before Eric Clapton released a chart-topping blues album that included Eddie’s “Five Long Years” and “Third Degree”. He was 79.
Nov 24, 1993 – Albert Collins was born on October 1, 1932 in Leona Texas. The blues guitar came to him through his cousin Lightnin’ Hopkins, who lived in the same town and often played on family gatherings. Although initially a student of piano, he became the bluesmaster who played an altered tuning. Collins tuned his guitar to an open F minor chord (FCFAbCF), and then added a capo at the 5th, 6th or 7th fret. At the age of twelve, he made the decision to concentrate on learning the guitar after hearing “Boogie Chillen'” by John Lee Hooker.
In the early days Collins worked as a paint mixer and truck driver to make ends meet. In 1971, when he was 39 years old, Collins worked in construction, since he couldn’t make a proper living from his music. One of the construction jobs he worked on was a remodeling job for Neil Diamond. This type of work carried on right up until the late 1970s. It was his wife Gwen that talked him into returning to music. Continue reading Albert Collins 11/1993
December 21, 1992 –Albert King was born Albert Nelson on April 25th 1923 in Indianola, Mississippi, the same town where B.B. King grew up. However, on his Social Security application in 1942, his birthplace was entered as “Aboden, Miss.,” likely based on his pronunciation of Aberdeen. King, who gave his birth date as April 25, 1923, was raised primarily in Arkansas. As a child, he sang with his family’s gospel group at a church where his father played the guitar. When King was eight, his family moved to Forrest City, Arkansas and he would pick cotton on plantations in the area. Around that same time, King bought his first guitar, paying only $1.25. His first inspiration was T-Bone Walker.
Butterfield could hit a single note and have it sound like a full orchestra!
May 4, 1987 – Paul Vaughn Butterfield was born on December 17, 1942 to become one of the best white Chicago blues performers in America (singer and harmonica player).
Beyond anything, it should be noted that Paul Butterfield was much better as a harpist/singer than he was ever given credit for. With the likes of Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield he carved a huge inroad for Chicago City Blues in the world of blues.
After early training as a classical flautist, Butterfield developed an interest in blues harmonica. He explored the blues scene in his native Chicago, where he was able to meet Muddy Waters and other blues greats who provided encouragement and a chance to join in the jam sessions. Soon, Butterfield began performing with fellow blues enthusiasts Nick Gravenites and Elvin Bishop.
In 1963, he formed the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, with whom recorded several successful albums as the band became a popular fixture on the late-1960s concert and festival circuit, with performances at the Fillmores, Monterey Pop Festival, and Woodstock. They became known for combining electric Chicago blues with a rock urgency as well as their pioneering jazz fusion performances and recordings. After the breakup of the group in 1971, Butterfield continued to tour and record in a variety of settings, including with Paul Butterfield’s Better Days, his mentor Muddy Waters, and members of Bob Dylan’s backing group The Band, some of whom lived in Woodstock.
Most of his later work originated in Woodstock, New York where he moved to in the early 1970s
While still recording and performing, Butterfield died in 1987 at age 44 of a heroin overdose. Music critics have acknowledged his development of an original approach that places him among the best-known blues-harp players. In 2006, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 2015.
Both panels noted his harmonica skills as well as his contributions to bringing blues-style music to a younger and broader audience.
December 8, 1986 – Hollywood Fats was born Michael Leonard Mann in Los Angeles on March 17, 1954. He started playing guitar at the age of 10. While in his teens, his mother would drive him to various clubs in South Central Los Angeles to jam with well-known blues musicians when they came to town. Hollywood Fats’ father was a doctor and his siblings went on to become doctors and lawyers. He gigged with Buddy Guy and Junior Wells who gave him the nickname.
Hollywood Fats toured with James Harman, Jimmy Witherspoon, J. B. Hutto, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Albert King. During the 1970s and 1980s he worked with the blues harmonica player and singer James Harman. He played on a number of his records including Extra Napkin’s, Mo’ Na’Kins, Please, Those Dangerous Gentlemans and Live in ’85. Other guitarists with whom he played included Junior Watson, Kid Ramos and Dave Alvin. Hollywood Fats was invited to be a sideman to Muddy Waters and later met the harmonica player Al Blake. Blake had just moved to Los Angeles from Oklahoma. In 1974, Hollywood Fats and Blake formed a band consisting of pianist Fred Kaplan, Richard Innes on drums and Canned Heat bassist Larry Taylor called the Hollywood Fats Band.
For a King Biscuit Flower Hour concert on September 7, 1979, which was later to be released on record, Hollywood Fats played the lead guitar in Canned Heat.
The Hollywood Fats Band released a self-titled album in 1979, the only album under their name. The band broke up not long after and Hollywood Fats continued to play with Harman’s band, and The Blasters in 1986 replacing Dave Alvin. Hollywood Fats also played with a non-blues band called Dino’s Revenge from 1985 through 1986. He recorded three songs with Dino’s Revenge as well as playing several live performances. The band consisted of Marshall Rohner of T.S.O.L. as well as Kevan Hill, Butch Azevedo and Steven Ameche all of The Twisters.
The Fats Band always rehearsed at Alley Studios in North Hollywood where this informal, yet very important and now rare recording was made. Fats tragically died at the young age of 32, one week after this rehearsal date, thus cutting short an already brilliant career that had he lived, was destined for true legend.Upon his death Guitar Player Magazine wrote in a tribute to him that he was the greatest blues guitar player to come along in the last 25 years. The show the band was rehearsing for was the annual Southern California Blues Society’s Christmas party held at the Music Machine on Pico Blvd in west Los Angeles. The night of the show was a joyous occasion and there were many big time music celebrities in the audience. Among them was Lee Allen, the legendary New Orleans saxophone player, heard playing on so many great rock and roll classics by Little Richard, Fats Domino, Kris Kenner.,etc. Lee played with The Fats Band that night. The band was on fire sounding better than ever with great hopes for the future-but it was not to be. Dreams and aspirations were soon shattered after a night of celebration. Hollywood Fats departed this world in the early morning hours of the following day on December 8, 1986 as the result of a heroin overdose at the age of 32.
July 25, 1984 – Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton was born on December 11, 1926 in Ariton, Alabama. She was introduced to music in a Baptist church, where her father was a minister and her mother a singer. She and her six siblings began to sing at early ages. Her mother died young, and Willie Mae left school and got a job washing and cleaning spittoons in a local tavern. In 1940 she left home and, with the help of Diamond Teeth Mary, joined Sammy Greens Hot Harlem Revue and was soon billed as the “New Bessie Smith”. Her musical education started in the church but continued through her observation of the rhythm-and-blues singers Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie, whom she deeply admired.
Thornton’s career began to take off when she moved to Houston in 1948. “A new kind of popular blues was coming out of the clubs in Texas and Los Angeles, full of brass horns, jumpy rhythms, and wisecracking lyrics.” Continue reading Big Mama Thornton 7/1984
April 27, 1984 – Z. Z. Hill was bornArzell Hill in Naples, Texas on September 30th 1935.
He began his singing career in the late 1950s as part of a gospel group called The Spiritual Five. In 1964, he moved to California and recorded “You Were Wrong” on his brother’s M.H. record label. In 1971, he recorded the hits “Faithful & True” and “Chokin’ Kind” in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. One of ZZ’s biggest selling hits came while signed to Columbia, “Love Is So Good When You’re Stealing It,” which spent 18 weeks on the Billboard R&B chart in the summer of 1977. His 1982 album, ‘Down Home’, stayed on the Billboard soul album chart for nearly two years. The track “Down Home Blues” has been called the best-known blues song of the 1980s. This track plus his songs “Taxi”, “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In”, and “Open House” have become R&B/Southern soul standards.
Hill managed to resuscitate both his own semi-flagging career and the entire genre at large when he signed on at Jackson, MS-based Malaco Records in 1980 and began growling his way through some of the most uncompromising blues to be unleashed on black radio stations in many a moon. His impressive 1982 Malaco album Down Home Blues remained on Billboard’s soul album charts for nearly two years, an extraordinary run for such a blatantly bluesy LP. His songs “Down Home Blues” and “Somebody Else Is Steppin’ In” have graduated into the ranks of legitimate blues standards (and few of those have come along over the last couple of decades). Arzell Hill started out singing gospel with a quintet called the Spiritual Five, but the output of B.B. King, Bobby Bland, and especially Sam Cooke made a more indelible mark on his approach. He began gigging around Dallas, fashioning his distinctive initials after those of B.B. King. When his older brother Matt Hill (a budding record producer with his own label, M.H.) invited Z.Z. to go west to Southern California, the young singer did.
His debut single on M.H., the gutsy shuffle “You Were Wrong” (recorded in an L.A. garage studio), showed up on the pop chart for a week in 1964. With such a relatively successful showing his first time out, Hill’s fine subsequent singles for the Bihari Brothers’ Kent logo should have been even bigger. But “I Need Someone (To Love Me),” “Happiness Is All I Need,” and a raft of other deserving Kent 45s (many produced and arranged by Maxwell Davis) went nowhere commercially for the singer. Excellent singles for Atlantic, Mankind, and Hill (another imprint operated by brother Matt, who served as Z.Z.’s producer for much of his career) preceded a 1972 hookup with United Artists that resulted in three albums and six R&B chart singles over the next couple of years. From there, Z.Z. moved on to Columbia, where his 1977 single “Love Is So Good When You’re Stealing It” became his biggest-selling hit of all. But Hill’s vocal grit was never more effective than on his blues-soaked Malaco output.
From 1980 until 1984, when he died suddenly of a heart attack, Z.Z. bravely led a personal back-to-the-blues campaign that doubtless helped to fuel the subsequent contemporary blues boom. It’s a shame he couldn’t stick around to see it blossom.
While touring in February 1984, Hill was involved in a car accident. Although he continued to perform, he died two months later on April 28, 1984 at the age of 48, from a heart attack arising from a blood clot formed after the accident. He was 48.
April 30, 1983 – Muddy Waters was born McKinley Morganfield on April 4th 1913 in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. He taught himself harmonica as a child. He later took up guitar, eagerly absorbing the classic delta blues styles of Robert Johnson and Son House and went on to become known as “the Father of Chicago blues”.
Waters grew up on Stovall Plantation, near Clarksdale, Mississippi, and by age seventeen was playing the guitar at parties, emulating local blues artists Son House and Robert Johnson. His grandmother, Della Grant, raised him after his mother died shortly following his birth. Grant gave the boy the nickname “Muddy” at an early age, because he loved to play in the muddy water of nearby Deer Creek. He later changed it to “Muddy Water” and finally “Muddy Waters”. Continue reading Muddy Waters 4/1983
March 5, 1982 – John Belushi (The Blues Brothers) was born January 24th 1949 in Chicago, Illinois. Belushi’s mother, Agnes Demetri (Samaras), was the daughter of Albanian immigrants, and his father, Adam Anastos Belushi, was an Albanian immigrant from Qytezë. Born in Humboldt Park, a neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, Illinois, John was raised in Wheaton, a suburb west of Chicago, along with his three siblings: younger brothers Billy and Jim, and sister Marian. Belushi was raised in the Albanian Orthodox Church and attended Wheaton Central High School, where he met his future wife, Judith Jacklin.
In 1973, Belushi and Judith Jacklin moved together to New York where Belushi worked for National Lampoon magazine’s The National Lampoon Radio Hour, a half-hour syndicated comedy program where he was a writer, director and actor. During a trip to Toronto to check the local Second City cast in 1974, he met Dan Aykroyd. Jacklin became an associate producer for the show, and she and Belushi were married on December 31, 1976.
Belushi became an original cast member of the new television show Saturday Night Live (SNL) in 1975. His characters at SNL included belligerent Samurai Futaba. With Aykroyd, Belushi created the characters Jake and Elwood Blues, also known as The Blues Brothers.
The band made its debut as the musical guest on the April 22, 1978, episode of Saturday Night Live. The band then began to take on a life beyond the confines of the television screen, releasing an album, Briefcase Full of Blues, in 1978, and then having a Hollywood film, The Blues Brothers, created around its characters in 1980.
Although better known as a comedian/ actor, notable for his work on Saturday Night Live and National Lampoon’s Animal House, it is as a “Joliet” Jake Blues (named after Joliet Prison) of the Blues Brothers that he caught instant stardom. Belushi and Aykroyd, in character as lead vocalist and harmonica player/backing vocalist “Elwood” Blues (named after the Elwood Ordnance Plant, which made TNT and grenades during World War II), the Blues Brothers R&B Review became a sensation.
During his tenure at SNL, Belushi was heavily using drugs and alcohol which affected his performance and caused SNL to fire him (and promptly re-hire him) a number of times.
Following the success of The Blues Brothers on the show, Belushi and Aykroyd, with the help of pianist-arranger Paul Shaffer, started assembling a collection of studio talents to form a proper band. These included SNL band members, saxophonist “Blue” Lou Marini and trombonist-saxophonist Tom Malone, who had previously played in Blood, Sweat & Tears. At Shaffer’s suggestion, guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, the powerhouse combo from Booker T and the M.G.’s and subsequently almost every hit out of Memphis’s Stax Records during the 1960s, were signed as well. In 1978 The Blues Brothers released their debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues with Atlantic Records. The album reached #1 on the Billboard 200 and went double platinum. Two singles were released, “Rubber Biscuit”, which reached number 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 and “Soul Man,” which reached number 14.
The Blues Brothers became a Grammy Award-nominated American blues and soul revivalist band.
Other than the titular “Blues Brothers” and a handful of characters, all musicians performed under their real names. The full band for the 1980 film included:
The genesis of the Blues Brothers was a January 17, 1976, Saturday Night Live sketch. In it, “Howard Shore and his All-Bee Band” play the Slim Harpo song “I’m a King Bee”, with Belushi singing and Aykroyd playing harmonica, dressed in the bee costumes they wore for the “Killer Bees” sketch.
Following tapings of SNL, it was popular among cast members and the weekly hosts to attend Aykroyd’s Holland Tunnel Blues bar, which he had rented not long after joining the cast. Aykroyd and Belushi filled a jukebox with songs from many different artists such as Sam and Dave and punk band The Viletones. Belushi bought an amplifier and they kept some musical instruments there for anyone who wanted to jam. It was here that Aykroyd and Ron Gwynne collaborated on and developed the original story idea which Dan then turned into the initial story draft of the Blues Brothers movie, better known as the “tome” because it contained so many pages.
It was also at the bar that Aykroyd introduced Belushi to the blues. An interest soon became a fascination and it was not long before the two began singing with local blues bands. Jokingly, SNL band leader Howard Shore suggested they call themselves “The Blues Brothers”. In a 1988 interview in the Chicago Sun-Times, Aykroyd said the Blues Brothers act borrowed their “duo thing and dancing” from Sam & Dave and others, “but the hats came from John Lee Hooker. The suits came from the concept that when you were a jazz player in the 40’s, 50’s 60’s, to look straight, you had to wear a suit.”
The band was also modeled in part on Aykroyd’s experience with the Downchild Blues Band, one of the first professional blues bands in Canada, with whom Aykroyd continues to play on occasion.[a] Aykroyd first encountered the band in the early 1970s, at or around the time of his attendance at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada and where his initial interest in the blues developed through attending and occasionally performing at Ottawa’s Le Hibou Coffee House. Aykroyd has said of this time:
So I grew up (in Ottawa), in this capital city. My parents used to work for the government, and I went to elementary school, high school, and the university in the city. And there was a place on Sussex Drive (Sussex Drive is where the Prime Minister’s house is, right below Parliament Hill), and there was a little club there called Le Hibou, which in French means ‘the owl.’ And it was run by a gentleman named Harvey Glatt, and he brought every, and I mean every blues star that you or I would ever have wanted to have seen through Ottawa in the late 50s, well I guess more late 60s sort of, in around the Newport jazz rediscovery. I was going to Le Hibou and hearing James Cotton, Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins, and Muddy Waters. I actually jammed behind Muddy Waters. S. P. Leary left the drum kit one night, and Muddy said, ‘Anybody out there play drums? I don’t have a drummer.’ And I walked on stage and we started, I don’t know, Little Red Rooster, something. He said, ‘Keep that beat going, you make Muddy feel good.’ And I heard Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Burnett). Many, many times I saw Howlin’ Wolf. And of course Buddy Guy, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. So I was exposed to all of these players, playing there as part of this scene to service the academic community in Ottawa, a very well-educated community. Had I lived in a different town I don’t think that this would have happened, because it was just the confluence of educated government workers, and then also all the colleges in the area, Ottawa University, Carleton, and all the schools—these people were interested in blues culture.
The Toronto-based Downchild Blues Band, co-founded in 1969 by two brothers, Donnie and Richard “Hock” Walsh, served as an inspiration for the two Blues Brothers characters. Aykroyd initially modeled Elwood Blues in part on Donnie Walsh, a harmonica player and guitarist, while John Belushi’s Jake Blues character was modeled in part on Hock Walsh, Downchild’s lead singer. In their first album as the Blues Brothers, Briefcase Full of Blues (1978), Aykroyd and Belushi featured three well-known Downchild songs closely associated with Hock Walsh’s vocal style: “I’ve Got Everything I Need (Almost)”, written by Donnie Walsh, “Shot Gun Blues”, co-written by Donnie and Hock Walsh, and “Flip, Flop and Fly”, co-written and originally popularized by Big Joe Turner. All three songs were contained in Downchild’s second album, Straight Up (1973), with “Flip, Flop and Fly” becoming the band’s most successful single, in 1974.
Belushi’s budding interest in the blues solidified in October 1977 when he was in Eugene, Oregon, filming National Lampoon’s Animal House. He went to a local hotel to hear 25-year-old blues singer/harmonica player Curtis Salgado. After the show, Belushi and Salgado talked about the blues for hours. Belushi found Salgado’s enthusiasm infectious. In an interview at the time with the Eugene Register-Guard, he said:
I was growing sick of rock and roll, it was starting to bore me … and I hated disco, so I needed some place to go. I hadn’t heard much blues before. It felt good.
Salgado lent him some albums by Floyd Dixon, Charles Brown, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and others. Belushi was hooked.
Belushi began to appear with Salgado on stage, singing the Floyd Dixon song “Hey, Bartender” on a few occasions, and using Salgado’s humorous alternate lyrics to “I Don’t Know”:
I said Woman, you going to walk a mile for a Camel Or are you going to make like Mr. Chesterfield and satisfy? She said that all depends on what you’re packing Regular or king-size Then she pulled out my Jim Beam, and to her surprise It was every bit as hard as my Canadian Club
These lyrics were used again for the band’s debut performance on SNL. This took place on the episode of April 22, 1978 (hosted by Steve Martin), where, in the cold open, Don Kirshner (played by Paul Shaffer) describes how Marshall Checkers of Checkers Records called him on a hot new blues act, and how with the help of “Neshui Wexler and Jerry Ertegun” (a play on the names of record industry executives Jerry Wexler and Nesuhi Ertegun), they were no longer regarded as an authentic blues band, but “a viable commercial product.”
Belushi, technically, did not have a great voice; he compensated for this by throwing his heart and his soul into his singing, from which approach the power of the blues is said to come.
With the film came the soundtrack album, which was the band’s first studio album. “Gimme Some Lovin’” was a Top 40 hit and the band toured to promote the film, which led to a third album (and second live album), Made in America, recorded at the Universal Amphitheatre in 1980. The track “Who’s Making Love” peaked at No. 39. It was the last recording the band would make with Belushi’s Jake Blues.
At the time of his death, music had become more of a byline for Belushi, who was pursuing several movie projects.
Belushi died on the morning of March 5, 1982 in Hollywood, California at the Chateau Marmont, after being injected with, and accidentally overdosing on, a mixture of cocaine and heroin (a “speedball”) at the age of 33.
January 29, 1982 – Sam “Lightnin” Hopkins was born Sam John Hopkins in Centerville, Texas on March 15, 1912. Hopkins’ childhood was immersed in the sounds of the blues and he developed a deeper appreciation at the age of 8 when he met Blind Lemon Jefferson at a church picnic in Buffalo, Texas. That day, Hopkins felt the blues was “in him” and went on to learn from his older (somewhat distant) cousin, country blues singer Alger “Texas” Alexander.
Hopkins had another cousin, the Texas electric blues guitarist Frankie Lee Sims, with whom he later recorded. Hopkins began accompanying Blind Lemon Jefferson on guitar in informal church gatherings. Jefferson supposedly never let anyone play with him except for young Hopkins, who learned much from and was influenced greatly by Blind Lemon Jefferson thanks to these gatherings. In the mid-1930s, Hopkins was sent to Houston County Prison Farm for an unknown offense. In the late 1930s, Hopkins moved to Houston with Alexander in an unsuccessful attempt to break into the music scene there.
By the early 1940s, he was back in Centerville working as a farm hand. Hopkins took a second shot at Houston in 1946. While singing on Dowling St. in Houston’s Third Ward (which would become his home base), he was discovered by Lola Anne Cullum from the Los Angeles-based label Aladdin Records. She convinced Hopkins to travel to Los Angeles, where he accompanied pianist Wilson Smith. The duo recorded twelve tracks in their first sessions in 1946. An Aladdin Records executive decided the pair needed more dynamism in their names and dubbed Hopkins “Lightnin'” and Wilson “Thunder”.
Hopkins recorded more sides for Aladdin in 1947. He returned to Houston and began recording for the Gold Star Records label. In the late 1940s and 1950s Hopkins rarely performed outside Texas. He occasionally traveled to the Mid-West and Eastern United States for recording sessions and concert appearances. It has been estimated that he recorded between eight hundred and a thousand songs in his career. He performed regularly at nightclubs in and around Houston, particularly in Dowling St. where he had first been discovered. He recorded his hits “T-Model Blues” and “Tim Moore’s Farm” at SugarHill Recording Studios in Houston. By the mid to late 1950s, his prodigious output of quality recordings had gained him a following among African Americans and blues aficionados.
In 1959, Hopkins was contacted by Mack McCormick, who hoped to bring him to the attention of the broader musical audience, which was caught up in the folk revival. McCormack presented Hopkins to integrated audiences first in Houston and then in California. Hopkins debuted at Carnegie Hall on October 14, 1960, appearing alongside Joan Baez and Pete Seeger performing the spiritual “Mary Don’t You Weep”. In 1960, he signed to Tradition Records. The recordings which followed included his song “Mojo Hand” in 1960.
In 1968, Hopkins recorded the album Free Form Patterns backed by the rhythm section of psychedelic rock band the 13th Floor Elevators. Through the 1960s and into the 1970s, Hopkins released one or sometimes two albums a year and toured, playing at major folk festivals and at folk clubs and on college campuses in the U.S. and internationally. He toured extensively in the United States and played a six-city tour of Japan in 1978. Houston’s poet-in-residence for 35 years, Hopkins recorded more albums than any other bluesman.
His distinctive style often included playing, in effect, bass, rhythm, lead, percussion, and vocals, all at the same time. His musical phrasing would often include a long low note at the beginning, the rhythm played in the middle range, then the lead in the high range. By playing this quickly – with occasional slaps of the guitar – the effect of bass, rhythm, percussion and lead would be created. He influenced many guitarists including Jimi Hendrix. It has been estimated that he recorded between 800 and 1000 songs during his career,
On January 29, 1982 he lost his battle with esophageal cancer at age 70.
Sam (Lightnin’) Hopkins, one of the great country blues singers and perhaps the greatest single influence on rock guitar players, died Saturday in Houston, where he made his home. He would have been 70 years old next month.
A contemporary of Muddy Waters, B.B. King and John Lee Hooker, he was one of the last of the original blues artists. Mr. Hopkins began to sing the blues as a child in his native Texas. He started to sing professionally in the 1930’s, gaining recognition beyond his home state with an intense style that he used to phrase his songs of suffering and death. In his dark and supple voice, he would evoke his past as a field hand and rambler to the accompaniment of highly imaginative guitar work.
His instrument often became a second voice to discourse with, or to end his vocal phrases. It also enhanced his reputation for flair, wit and improvisational skill. A Spontaneous Style
On his guitar, Mr. Hopkins would alternate ominous single-note runs on the high strings with a hard-driving bass in irregular rhythms that matched his spontaneous, conversational lyrics.
His recordings and fame had preceded the lean, lanky minstrel when he first ventured North in 1960 for a concert in Carnegie Hall and appearances at the Village Gate.
The Carnegie Hall concert was a benefit hootenanny that also featured the young Joan Baez. Mr. Hopkins performed his frequently bitter and sardonic, introspective and autobiographical songs, and also swapped verses with Pete Seeger and Bill McAdoo, a young folk singer from Detroit.
But his art was best suited for the more intimate surroundings of a club like the Village Gate, where he sang of unfulfilled love and unappreciated devotion. ”The blues form may seem simple and limiting,” reported Robert Shelton in his review in The New York Times, ”but at the hands of a master his sentiments burgeoned into a subtle exploration of moods.”
Mr. Hopkins returned to the Village Gate in 1962 for a joint appearance with Sabicas, the Spanish flamenco guitarist. Playing out his moody, subjectively ruminating songs on a $65 guitar, he added an unusually light-hearted number, ”Happy Blues for John Glenn,” after having watched the television reports on the astronaut’s orbital flight around the world. Blues Accordin’ to Lightin’
By that time, M r. Hopkins, a regular on Hou ston’s Dowling Street, had recorded more than 200 singles and 10 alb ums in 42 years of singing.
He appeared in 1970 in a short film, ”Blues Accordin’ to Lightin’ Hopkins,” a tribute to his musicianship, a study of his brand of music, as well as a celebration of his way of life.
Mr. Hopkins was at Carnegie Hall again, in 1979, for a four-hour Boogie ‘n Blues concert and appeared for the last time in New York the following year for a three-night stand at Tramps on East 15th Street.
Sam Hopkins was born March 15, 1912, in Centerville, Tex., a small cotton town, north of Houston, surrounded by red-clay country. At 8, he made his first guitar and had his brother teach him basic guitar blues, enough to get him started as a musician.
He left school about that time to travel in Texas, sometimes as a hobo and occasionally working as a farmhand; he also did other odd jobs and played the guitar at county fairs and picnics. During those ramblings, he encountered Blind Lemon Alexander, the most popular Texas blues singer at the time, and his cousin, Texas Alexander, who sang but didn’t play the guitar; he took young Sam on as accompanist.
It became a lasting association. Mr. Hopkins and Texas Alexander, a singer with a voice like barbed wire, worked theaters and both could still be heard together on Houston street corners and city buses in the early 1950’s. ‘Rediscovered’ in 50’s
Mr. Hopkins had returned to Houston in 1945 after years of wandering around the South. Ten years later – he had become well known throughout Texas by then – the country blues were at a low as popular music and he fell into obscurity.
But a musicologist, Sam Charters, ”rediscovered” him in the late 1950’s and introduced him to a new generation of blues fans, this time across the country.
”The last of the blues is almost gone,” Mr. Hopkins noted just a few years ago when he had his national fame well in place, ”and the ones who doin’ it now got to either get a record or sit ’round me and learn my stuff, ’cause that all that they can go by.’
March 19, 1981– Tampa Red aka Hudson Whittaker or Hudson Woodbridge was born on January 8th 1904 in Smithville, Georgia.
When his parents died he moved to his aunts in Tampa, Florida. He is best known as an accomplished and influential blues guitarist who had a unique single-string slide style. His songwriting and his silky, polished “bottleneck” technique later influenced other leading Chicago blues guitarists, such as Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Nighthawk, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Mose Allison and many others.
In the 1920s, having already perfected his slide technique, he moved to Chicago, and began his career as a musician, adopting the name ‘Tampa Red’. His big break was being hired to accompany Ma Rainey and he began recording in 1928 with “It’s Tight Like That”, in a bawdy and humorous style that became known as “hokum”.
In a career spanning over 30 years he recorded pop, R&B and hokum records. His best known recordings include ‘Anna Lou Blues’, ‘Black Angel Blues’, ‘Crying Won’t Help You’, and ‘Love Her with a Feeling'”. By the 1940s he was playing electric guitar and in 1942 “Let Me Play With Your Poodle” was a No.4 ranking hit on Billboard’s new “Harlem Hit Parade”, forerunner of the R&B chart. In 1949 his recording “When Things Go Wrong with You (It Hurts Me Too)” was another R&B hit.
Out of the dozens of fine slide guitarists who recorded blues, only a handful — Elmore James, Muddy Waters, and Robert Johnson, for example — left a clear imprint on tradition by creating a recognizable and widely imitated instrumental style. Tampa Red was another influential musical model. During his heyday in the ’20s and ’30s, he was billed as “The Guitar Wizard,” and his stunning slide work on electric or National steel guitar shows why he earned the title. His 30-year recording career produced hundreds of sides: hokum, pop, and jive, but mostly blues (including classic compositions “Anna Lou Blues,” “Black Angel Blues,” “Crying Won’t Help You,” “It Hurts Me Too,” and “Love Her with a Feeling”). Early in Red’s career, he teamed up with pianist, songwriter, and latter-day gospel composer Georgia Tom Dorsey, collaborating on double-entendre classics like “Tight Like That.”
Listeners who only know Tampa Red’s hokum material are missing the deeper side of one of the mainstays of Chicago blues. His peers included Big Bill Broonzy, with whom he shared a special friendship. Members of Lester Melrose’s musical mafia and drinking buddies, they once managed to sleep through both games of a Chicago White Sox doubleheader. Sadly he became an alcoholic after his wife’s death in 1953 and he blamed his latter-day health problems on an inability to refuse a drink.
During Red’s prime however, his musical venues ran the gamut of blues institutions: down-home jukes, the streets, the vaudeville theater circuit, and the Chicago club scene. Due to his polish and theater experience, he is often described as a city musician or urban artist in contrast to many of his more limited musical contemporaries. Furthermore, his house served as the blues community’s rehearsal hall and an informal booking agency. According to the testimony of Broonzy and Big Joe Williams, Red cared for other musicians by offering them a meal and a place to stay and generally easing their transition from country to city life.
Tampa Red played a National Resonator Guitar, the loudest and showiest guitar available before amplification, acquiring one in the first year they were available.
He tragically died destitute in Chicago on March 19, 1981 at age 77.
August 29, 1976 – Mathis Jimmy Reed was born on September 6, 1925 on a plantation in or around the small burg of Dunleith, Mississippi. He stayed around the area until he was 15, learning the basic rudiments of harmonica and guitar from his buddy Eddie Taylor, who was then making a name for himself as a semi-pro musician, working country suppers and juke joints.
Reed moved up to Chicago in 1943, but was quickly drafted into the Navy where he served for two years. After a quick trip back to Mississippi and marriage to his beloved wife Mary (known to blues fans as “Mama Reed”), he relocated to Gary, Indiana, and found work at an Armour Foods meat packing plant while simultaneously breaking into the burgeoning blues scene around Gary and neighboring Chicago. Continue reading Jimmy Reed 8/1976
January 10, 1976 – Howlin’ Wolf wasborn Chester Arthur Burnett on June 10, 1910 in White Station, Mississippi, near West Point. He was named Chester Arthur Burnett, after Chester A. Arthur, the 21st President of the United States. His physique garnered him the nicknames of Big Foot Chester and Bull Cow as a young man: he was 6 feet 3 inches (191 cm) tall and often weighed close to 275 pounds (125 kg). He explained the origin of the name Howlin’ Wolf: “I got that from my grandfather”, who would often tell him stories about the wolves in that part of the country and warn him that if he misbehaved then the “howling wolves would get him”. Burnett once claimed to have been given his nickname by his idol Jimmie Rodgers. Continue reading Howlin’ Wolf 1/1976
March 16, 1975 – T-Bone Walker was bornAaron Thibeaux Walker on May 28, 1910 in Linden, Texas. American blues guitarist, pianist and singer/ songwriter.
In the early 1920s, as a teenager learned his craft amongst the street-strolling stringbands of Dallas. Walker’s parents were both musicians. His stepfather, Marco Washington, taught him to play the guitar, ukulele, banjo, violin, mandolin, and piano.
Walker left school at the age of 10, and by 15 he was a professional performer on the blues circuit. Initially, he was Blind Lemon Jefferson’s protégé and would guide him around town for his gigs and by 1929, Walker made his recording debut with Columbia Records billed as Oak Cliff T-Bone, releasing the single “Wichita Falls Blues”/”Trinity River Blues”. Continue reading T-Bone Walker 3/1975
August 6, 1973 – Memphis Minnie was born Lizzie Douglas on June 3, 1897 in Algiers, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans.
She was the eldest of 13 siblings. Her parents, Abe and Gertrude Douglas, nicknamed her Kid when she was young, and her family called her that throughout her childhood. It is reported that she disliked the name Lizzie. When she first began performing, she played under the name Kid Douglas. When she was 7, she and her family moved to Walls, Mississippi, south of Memphis. The following year she received her first guitar, as a Christmas present. She learned to play the banjo by the age of 10 and the guitar by the age of 11, when she started playing at parties.
Feb 15, 1968- Little Walter was born Marion Walter Jacobs on May 1st 1930 (although recently uncovered census data suggests he may have been born earlier, possibly as early as 1925) in Marksville, Louisiana, and raised in Rapides Parish, Louisiana, where he first learned to play the harmonica. After quitting school by the age of 12, Jacobs left rural Louisiana and travelled around working odd jobs and busking on the streets of New Orleans; Memphis; Helena, Arkansas; and St. Louis. He honed his musical skills on harmonica and guitar performing with much older bluesmen, including Sonny Boy Williamson II, Sunnyland Slim, Honeyboy Edwards and others.
Arriving in Chicago in 1945, he occasionally found work as a guitarist but garnered more attention for his already highly developed harmonica work. According to fellow Chicago bluesman Floyd Jones, Little Walter’s first recording was an unreleased demo recorded soon after he arrived in Chicago, on which Walter played guitar backing Jones. Jacobs, reportedly frustrated with having his harmonica drowned out by electric guitarists, adopted a simple but previously little-used method: He cupped a small microphone in his hands along with his harmonica and plugged the microphone into a public address system or guitar amplifier.
May 25, 1965 – Sonny Boy Williamson ll was born Aleck (Alex) Ford aka Alex “Rice” Miller – (his stepfather’s name) on the Sara Jones Plantation near Glendora, in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. He claimed his birth date was December 5, 1899 although one researcher, David Evans, music professor at Memphis University, claims to have found census record evidence that he was born around 1912 while his gravestone has his birthdate as March 11th 1908. Another confusion is created by the fact that he went under the name Sonny Boy Williamson II, to distinguish from the fact that there is a “real” Sonny Boy Williamson, also a famous blues singer/harpist, whose last name was actually Williamson.
He lived and worked with his sharecropper stepfather, Jim Miller, whose last name he soon adopted, and mother, Millie Ford, until the early 1930s. Beginning in the 1930s, he traveled around Mississippi and Arkansas and encountered Big Joe Williams, Elmore James and Robert Lockwood, Jr., also known as Robert Junior Lockwood, who would play guitar on his later Checker Records sides. Continue reading Sonny Boy Williamson 2 5/1965
May 24, 1963 – Elmore James was born Elmore Brooks on January 27, 1918 in the old Richland community in Holmes County, Mississippi, the illegitimate son of 15-year-old Leola Brooks, a field hand. His father was probably Joe Willie “Frost” James, who moved in with Leola, and Elmore took his surname. He began making music at the age of 12, using a simple one-string instrument (diddley bow, or jitterbug) strung on a shack wall. As a teen he performed at dances under the names Cleanhead and Joe Willie James, before playing with the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson, and the legendary Robert Johnson.
James was strongly influenced by Robert Johnson, Kokomo Arnold and Tampa Red. He recorded several of Tampa Red’s songs. He also inherited from Tampa Red’s band two musicians who joined his own backing band, the Broomdusters, “Little” Johnny Jones (piano) and Odie Payne (drums). Continue reading Elmore James 5/1963
August 19, 1959 – Blind Willie McTell was born William Samuel McTier on May 5th 1898 in Thomson, Georgia. Few facts are known about his early life. Even his name is uncertain: his family name was either McTear or McTier, and his first name may have been Willie, Samuel, or Eddie. His tombstone reads “Eddie McTier.” He was blind either from birth or from early childhood, and he attended schools for the blind in Georgia, New York, and Michigan.
While in his early teens, McTell learned to play the guitar from his mother, relatives, and neighbors in Statesboro, where his family had moved. In his teenage years, after his mother’s death, he left home and toured in carnivals and medicine shows. In the 1920s and 1930s McTell traveled a circuit between Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah, and Macon. This region encompasses two major blues styles: Eastern Seaboard/Piedmont, with lighter, bouncier rhythms and a ragtime influence; and Deep South, with its greater emphasis on intense rhythms and short, repeated music phrases. Continue reading Blind Willie McTell 8/1959
February 7, 1959 – Guitar Slim was born Eddie Jones on December 10, 1926 in Greenwood, Mississippi. His mother died when he was five, and his grandmother raised him, as he spent his teen years in the cotton fields. He spent his free time at the local juke joints and started sitting in as a singer or dancer; he was good enough to be nicknamed “Limber Leg.”
After returning from World War II military service, he started playing clubs around New Orleans, Louisiana. Bandleader Willie D. Warren introduced him to the guitar, and he was particularly influenced by T-Bone Walker and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. About 1950 he adopted the stage name ‘Guitar Slim’ and started becoming known for his wild stage act.