Blues Bytes


September 2018

Various Artists
 Tribute - Delmark's 65th Anniversary
Delmark Records

Delmark Records 65th

When I started listening to the blues in the mid/late ’80s, there were only a few labels producing the music at the time that I could actually track down. Alligator, Blind Pig, and Rounder and Black Top releases were easy to find, but after a couple of years I was able to find some recordings from Delmark Records, notably Junior Wells’ Hoodoo Man Blues and Magic Sam’s West Side Soul. From there, I dived deeper into their catalog and, more than any other label to be honest, Delmark helped me “grow” my love for the blues. In a few years, they started recording new albums and have continued to be one of the premier labels in blues and jazz for 65 years.

Recently, Delmark celebrated their anniversary with an exciting celebration of the label at this year’s Chicago Blues Festival, where many of the current stars of the label honored the many blues legends who first recorded with Delmark. Traditionally, the label has released a collection of their “greatest hits” on CD at five year intervals since their 40th in 1993, but this year they shook things up a bit with Tribute – Delmark’s 65th Anniversary, a collection that follows the same format as the Blues Fest event, with many of the new stars paying tribute to those who preceded them.

Omar Coleman opens the disc, paying tribute to the great Junior Wells with the funky “Train I Ride,” one of the songs on Wells’ On Tap album from the mid ’70s. Lurrie Bell and the Bell Dynasty (brothers Steve, Tyson, and James) honor their father, Carey Bell, with a gritty performance of “One Day You’re Gonna Get Lucky,” and Windy City vet Linsey Alexander ably handles Jimmy Dawkins’ “All For Business,” backed by guitarist Billy Flynn, another Delmark recording artist.

Demetria Taylor (daughter of Eddie Taylor) pays tribute to the late Big Time Sarah with a spirited performance of “Riverboat,” an Albert King song that Sarah covered during her stint with Delmark (by the way, Taylor’s brother, Eddie Jr, plays guitar with the Bells on their selection), and Jimmy Burns gives a fine solo performance of Big Joe Williams’ “She Left Me A Mule To Ride.” Dave Weld is joined by former boss Lil’ Ed Williams and they tear through Ed’s uncle J.B. Hutto’s “Speak My Mind,” and 75-year-old legend Jimmy Johnson, who still sounds great, covers Magic Sam’s “Out of Bad Luck,” with Dave Specter on guitar.

Rising star Corey Dennison teams with his band mate Gerry Hundt to cover “Broke And Hungry,” the Blind Lemon Jefferson standard that Sleepy John Estes recorded in the label’s earliest days, guitarist Mike Wheeler gives a sweet read of Otis Rush’s “So Many Roads,” and Shirley Johnson’s warm vocals, backed by Flynn’s wonderful B.B. King-esque fretwork, make "Need Your Love So Bad” pay homage to Bonnie Lee. The final track, “Boot That Thing,” is a rollicking nod  from Ken Saydak to the legendary piano man, Roosevelt Sykes.

Longtime producer Steve Wagner does a marvelous job (with assistance from Dick Shurman), and also provides the liner notes to this excellent release, providing a brief history of the label along with a tribute of sorts to Delmark founder Bob Koester. The 86-year-old Koester recently sold the label to a pair of Chicago-area musicians, who blues fans hope will keep the label going strong for another 65 years at least.

--- Graham Clarke




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