Pages

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Jim Brewer - Same

Jim Brewer died twenty years, on June 3rd 1988, and unless you were a blues collector in the 1960's and 70's it's a safe bet that you may never have heard of this superb bluesman who was under recorded during his lifetime, and these days has just a handful of songs currently scattered on a few CD anthologies. Although he moved from Mississippi to Chicago in 1940, where he resided until his death, his guitar playing was still rooted in the Mississippi style he picked up as a youth. His repertoire as well was formed by the singers he heard, mostly on record or radio, in the 1940's and 50's; singers like Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red, Big Maceo and Peetie Wheatstraw who Brewer ran with in St. Louis for a spell. As he told Paul Oliver: "I went down to St. Louis, spent four or five years down there, woofin' and beefin' aroun' and blowin' my top as usually. An' I met a feller there down on Market and Main and places in East St. Louis, name of Peetie Wheatstraw. …I use to run aroun' with him quite a bit." Gospel music played a large part in Brewer's music and like many musicians of his generation he was torn for awhile between playing blues and playing gospel. Sometime in the late 1950's through the early 1960's he devoted himself almost entirely to gospel. It was in this context that Oliver first encountered him: "We first heard Blind James Brewer playing with a Gospel group which was holding service under the guidance of a fiercely exhorting 'jack-leg' preacher on the broken sidewalk of South Sangamon Street, Chicago, a short step from Brewer's home." Like many bluesman his allegiance to gospel wasn't steadfast as Oliver makes clear: "On another day we heard him with Blind Gray and recorded him playing I'm So Glad Good Whiskey's Back (Heritage HLP 1004)." Brewer was anything if not pragmatic: ""Well lots of people say, 'What profit you in the world if you gain the world and lose your soul?'-Well I realize that's true too. But you got to live down here just like you got to make preparations to go up there. …You got to live this life, and you got to obey God. And God give me this talent and he knew before I came into this world what I was goin' to make out of this talent." While playing on the streets of his hometown of Brookhaven, MS in the 1930’s he learned most of the religious songs that he continued to perform throughout his life. His father told him he could make more money playing blues and as he grew older he started performing at parties having learned his repertoire from records.

By the mid-1950’s, after roaming around for a bit, he was back in Chicago where he married his wife Fannie. Brewer’s new mother-in-law bought him an electric guitar and amplifier. Returning to Maxwell Street, where he began performing in the early 1940's,  he devoted himself exclusively to religious music. In 1962, however, he was offered an opportunity to play blues at a concert at Northwestern University and also began a regular gig at the No Exit Cafe which lasted for two decades. He went on to play major festivals and clubs in the United States, Canada and Europe. He was recorded by Swedish Radio in 1964, cut sides for the Heritage label, was recoded by Pete Welding who issued the sides on his Testament label was well as Milestone and Storyville, plus cut the full-length albums Jim Brewer (Philo, 1974) and Tough Luck (Earwig, 1983). Brewer was also captured on film performing with his wife on Maxwell Street in 1964 for the documentary And This Is Free.

Recorded less than a decade apart, Brewer's two full-length albums are marvelous examples of his artistry showcasing him playing solo acoustic on a program of mostly standards. Jim Brewer was recorded live at Kirkland College to an appreciative audience and Brewer seems at his best when working a crowd. Four cuts on Tough Luck were recorded live at the 9th annual Gambier Folk Festival in 1980 while the other numbers were cut in the studio in 1978 and 1982. I think the first album is the stronger of the two and really benefits from the fact that it captures a complete live performance complete with plenty of charming asides to the audience who seem captivated by Brewer's lively singing and guitar playing. Clas Ahlstrand summed up Brewer's guitar style succinctly in a 1967 Blues Unlimited article: "As a blues guitarist Jim Brewer must be considered one of the best in Chicago. His style is complex and filled with an easy, fluent rhythm. It is is definitely not 'Chicago styled, but softer and more 'Country.'" Indeed like his repertoire, which seems frozen in the 1940's and in the traditional songs he heard as a youngster, his guitar playing too seems firmly rooted in a Mississippi country style he learned as a youth. But as Ahlstrand points out, its appeal lies in Brewer's deep sense of rhythm which effortlessly rolls from his fingertips belying the complexity of his playing. This driving complexity is heard to fine effect in the good time numbers "She Wants To Boogie" and "Shak-a-You-Boogie" as well as a gorgeous version of the chestnut "St. Louis Blues" delivered with a seductive drive and sense of humor that invests this well worn tune with brand new sheen. The same can be said on a warmly sung version of "Corrina" and a powerful cover of "Crawlin' King Snake." Brewer plays only one gospel number on these albums, opening up his self titled album with a rousing, sanctified version of "I'll Fly Away" that lasts just over a minute before segueing into "Liberty Bill" which he announces by saying "Now I'm going to play some, some old, you know them way back down home blues." In addition to his guitar skills, Brewer possesses a  powerful yet easygoing voice, often drawing out his lines for dramatic effect.

Brewer's four live cuts from Tough Luck, are every bit as good as the previous album; Brewer is in commanding form on the stark, powerfully sung "Goin' Away Baby", a driving version of Tommy Johnson's timeless "Big Road" and employs a gentle voice and deft fingerpicking to "Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad." There's a reason certain songs have become standards and even though you may have heard "kansas City Blues" umpteen times, artists like Brewer are able to find the very essence of what makes this song so timeless, giving this classic a vivacious reading a feat he also performs on Arthur Crudup's "Mean Old 'Frisco." Brewer is a fine interpreter as he shows on terrific versions of Big Maceo's "Poor Kelley" and "Tough Luck Blues" and Walter Davis' "Come Back Baby", ably translated from piano to guitar. "Oak Top Boogie", a mostly instrumental with spoken asides, is a fine guitar boogie while "Hair Like A Horse's Mane" is a beautiful version of this standard and a song he clearly had an affection for, cutting it originally back in 1964.

Unfortunately Brewer's two LP's are long out of print and only a few of his songs appear on CD; a pair of songs on a couple of Earwig anthologies, his songs for Swedish Radio can be found on the CD I Blueskvarter Chicago 1964, Volume One and a few gospel numbers appear on And This Is Maxwell Street. Brewer remained an in demand musician until the end, and as long time supporter Andy Cohen wrote: "He died with gigs on his calendar."
Thanks to Sundayblues/org for the review.

Post: http://www58.zippyshare.com/v/83637229/file.html

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wow thanks