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January 2004

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Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup

Sonny Boy Williamson

Blind Willie McTell


Various Artists
When The Sun Goes Down - The Secret History of Rock and Roll
BMG Bluebird

Arthur Crudup

BMG’s Bluebird When the Sun Goes Down - The Secret History of Rock and Roll series examines the connection between blues and nascent rock and roll. The most recent installments in this ambitious series are nearly as impressive for the packages as for the stellar music held within. The musicologist and traditional musician David Evans wrote extensive and exhaustive liners for each and recording information is complete. The music is, of course, excellent.

Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup: Rock Me Mamma (Volume 7). Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup is best known as an early and potent inspiration to a young Elvis Presley, who covered three of the tunes on this 17-song disc. Those songs, “That’s All Right,” “So Glad You’re Mine” and “My Baby Left Me,” lead off the set, offering the strongest of connections between rock and blues. It may be a bit tenuous on the other collections, but just these three songs make the connection clear. The bluesman was Griot to the rock and roller’s adulator, emulator and sometimes elucidator. The blues, ever the bedrock, spawned a baby and they named it rock and roll. This is where it began. There is a framework inherent in this bluesman’s work. His “Rock Me Mama” would be slightly reworked into “Rock Me Baby.” “Mean Old ‘Frisco Blues” is an oft-covered classic, and “Black Pony Blues,” on which he plays acoustic guitar, should have been. “Dirt Road Blues” combines elements of “That’s All Right” with “Big Road Blues,” demonstrating that so many blues songs borrowed from each other over the years, and that artists even quote themselves. Covering a period of 1942 to 1951, these 17 songs offer a glimpse into an important blues musician who has been relegated by history as the man who inspired Elvis. As the hour long program aptly displays, Arthur Crudup was far more than a footnote.

Sonny Boy Williamson: Blue Bird Blues (Volume 8). From the opening notes of the lead-off 1937 version of “Good Morning Little School Girl,” later a hit of sorts for rock and rollers Ten Years After, Johnny Winter, and the Yardbirds more than a quarter century later, it becomes apparent why Sonny Boy Williamson #1 (John Lee Williamson) might be considered an important link between rock and roll and the blues, not to mention an extraordinary person in the development of the blues themselves. The songs included here recorded between 1940 and 1947 are testament to the man’s power and dexterity. One of a small handful of the most important blues harmonica players in blues history (along with the second Sonny Boy Williamson --Rice Miller, Little Walter Jacobs and Big Walter Horton), his music was frequently and liberally borrowed from by most of the major blues artists of the 1940s, '50s and '60s. Included on this exquisite 25-song collection are “Sugar Mama Blues” (later recorded and credited to John Lee Hooker), “Got the Bottle Up and Gone,” “Early in the Morning” (later recorded and credited to Louis Jordan), “Sloppy Drunk Blues” (later recorded and credited to Jimmy Rogers), and a slew of songs that shine on a light on his impressive vocals, first-rate songwriting, and unsurpassable harmonica work.

Blind Willie McTell: Statesboro Blues (Volume 9). The Allman Brothers added a fire to the title cut, but Willie McTell’s original 1928 version is as impressive for his mastery of the slide acoustic 12-string and plaintive vocals. The 17 songs compiled here, recorded between 1928 and 1932, comprise 50 minutes of exquisite listening from one of the masters of prewar blues. McTell was such a prolific musician in his time that he recorded under a variety of pseudo names, including Hot Shot Willie and Ruby Glaze. Four of these numbers are included here, as are a pair credited to Alfoncy and Bethenea Harris with Blind Willie McTell. Among the highlights collected in this astounding package are “Dark Night Blues,” two takes on “Mr. McTell Got the Blues,” “Love Changing Blues,” with some of the finest slide work ever recorded on a 12 string, and the superb “Stole Rider Blues,” but there is nary a note here that doesn’t impress.

Alan Lomax Blues Songbook. Alan Lomax wasn’t a blues scholar, per se. He was the first important scholar of folk musics from around the world, particularly in the United States. His breadth was expansive and blues was one of many musical branches that interested him, albeit one that attracted a good deal of his attention. John Cowley’s exhaustive notes offer a wealth of background and he and David Evans offer insightful notes into each of the 41 sessions presented in this wonderful two-disc collection. This is as “roots” as the blues gets. Fred McDowell’s 1959 session on “Goin’ Down the River,” with his sister on kazoo, Jessie Mae Hemphill’s aunt Rosalie Hill singing a wonderful “Rolled and Tumbled,” Lucious Curtis’ 1940 “Stagolee,” a scratchy 1942 Honeyboy Edwards doing “Worried Life Blues,” and even scratchier Son House version of “Pony Blues,” also from 1942. The recording dates are sometimes deceptive. Though these are not all ancient, they are nonetheless all important recordings. Those by Leadbelly (1934 and 1942), Vera Ward Hall (1937), Pete Johnson (1938), Albert Ammons (1938), Jelly Roll Morton (1938), Blind Willie McTell (1940), Muddy Waters (“I Be’s Troubled” from 1941), Sonny Terry (1942), Memphis Slim (1947), John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson (1947), Big Bill Broonzy (1952), Howlin’ Wolf (1966), Skip James (1966), R.L. Burnside (1978) and Sam Chatmon (1978) offer blues persona name recognition. Those recordings by largely unheralded, and often downright unknown players like Boy Blue, Cecil Augusta, Walter ‘Tangle Eye’ Jackson, Bessie Jones, Gabriel Brown, Dock Boggs, the Memphis Jug Band, Joe Lee, Jack Owens and Bud Spires, Elinor Boyer, Canray Fontenot and Bois Sec Ardoin, Ozella Jones, Smith Casey, Hattie Ellis & Cowboy Jack Ramsey, Ed Young and Hobart Smith, and Miles & Bob Pratcher are frequently the equal of the better know performers. This is one of the most engaging blues collections of the past year. Highly recommended for those just coming to the blues and for those who have been listening for decades, alike. This is manna.

--- Mark E. Gallo

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