Blues Bytes


November 2020

Jimmy Witherspoon
Evenin' Blues

Prestige Records

Jimmy Witherspoon

About 25 years ago, I was thumbing through a music catalog for Shanachie Records. Shanachie sold albums from their own label and pre-war recordings via their subsidiary, Yazoo Records. They also sold albums from other labels, and sometimes you could find a nice album in their catalog that was hard to find anywhere else (so help me, I miss music catalogs almost as much as I do record stores). In the particular catalog I was scanning, I stumbled onto a Jimmy Witherspoon recording called Evenin’ Blues, on the Prestige label.

A few years earlier, I had purchased a collection of Witherspoon’s Chess recordings that had recently been reissued, and had heard random tracks on a couple of anthology sets I’d bought. I liked his voice enough to consider this particular release, but what finally sold was within the description of the recording in the catalog, which mentioned that T-Bone Walker played guitar on the set. Now, I was a big fan of T-Bone Walker, but it was next to impossible to find any of his recordings back then. A couple of years later, the stores were inundated with T-Bone Walker collections, but at the time, I pretty much owned one T-Bone Walker cassette that someone had recorded for me.

Witherspoon began recording in the late ’30s, and with his smooth, warm, and mellow vocal style he was a perfect fit in the blues genre, the jazz genre, and the R&B genre. He recorded with a number of labels in the ’50s, including those aforementioned Chess recordings, and was prolific into the early ’60s. Evenin’ Blues was recorded in 1963 and released in early 1964, and in addition to Walker the list of side men included Clifford Scott on tenor sax, alto sax, and flute. Scott played sax on Bill Doggett’s hit “Honky Tonk” and he is just awesome throughout.

One of Witherspoon’s favorite songs was his upbeat “Money’s Getting’ Cheaper,” and that tune opens the disc, featuring a nice Walker solo, sax from Scott, and organ from Bert Kendrix. “Grab Me A Freight” is a slow blues that really showcases Walker and Scott, and Witherspoon nails it as well. Next is a swinging read of the Roy Hamilton hit, “Don’t Let Go!,” that’s every bit the equal, maybe better, than the hit version.

Washboard Sam’s “I’ve Been Treated Wrong” is another smoky ballad that’s putty in the hands of Witherspoon and Walker, while on the title track, a lovely after-hours jazz piece, Scott plays flute and Witherspoon really makes this one his own.

“Cane River” is a downhome blues romp penned by Witherspoon with nice instrumental work from Walker, Kendrix, and Scott,. A languid take of Leroy Carr’s “How Long Blues” is the first of three cover tunes, followed by a classy version of Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and a raucous reading of “Kansas City” that really rocks.

The original album closes with another Witherspoon original, the lively “Drinking Beer.” The CD release included four alternate takes of “Don’t Let Go!,” “I’ve Been Treated Wrong,” “Evenin’,” and “Cane River” that all measure up well to the takes that made the final album cut.

Evenin’ Blues is probably Jimmy Witherspoon’s best blues-oriented album. As stated above, he was comfortable in a number of genres, but this effort focuses more on the blues than many of his other releases, and the presence of Walker and Scott definitely lifts this set above standard blues fare.

Witherspoon continued to record frequently, though he battled throat cancer and its effects from the ’80s on before passing away in 1997, leaving behind an impressive body of work. Fans of traditional urban blues are advised to check out Evenin’ Blues. Iit is well worth the search.

--- Graham Clarke




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