Sunday, January 27, 2013

Various - Low Blows

The term "Chicago blues" still means, to many fans, the classic sound of the 1950s -- the electrified down-home blues styles fashioned by the bands of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), Jimmy Reed, Junior Wells, and a host of others who had arrived in the city from Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee. With few exceptions, the harmonica played an integral role in the configurations of these combos, functioning as the primary instrumental voice or as a second lead instrument. Fueled initially by the inspiration of the first Sonny Boy, John Lee Williamson, and a few years later by the expansive innovations of Little Walter Jacobs, countless aspiring bluesmen took up the harmonica, and soon the wailing of a blues harp could be heard at corner taverns and neighborhood bars all over the South and West Sides of the city. The top Chicago record labels like Chess, Vee-Jay, and States had their established harmonica stars, but only a few of the many other harp blowers playing in the Chicago clubs ever had a chance to crack the roster of a record company. Big Walter Horton, Billy Boy Arnold and Snooky Pryor succeeded in getting on wax a few times, but the list of talented players who never recorded during the classic era or who did so only sporadically (even then sometimes just as sidemen) included Henry Strong, Good Rockin' Charles, Big Leon Brooks, Alfred "Blues King" Harris, P.T. Hayes, Lester Davenport, Golden Wheeler, Little Willie Anderson, Earring George Maywether, Mojo Buford, Harmonica George Robinson, Earl Payton, Alex "Easy Baby" Randall, Dusty Brown, Willie Smith, Gold Tooth Walter McCalvin, John Lee Henley, Carey Bell, and probably dozens of others. For some, opportunities came years later with the advent of new record labels established for fans and collectors of the '50s sound; for others, only the memories survive.
Changing tastes and styles dealt most of Chicago's harp men a low blow as modern lead guitar-oriented blues, along with R&B and soul, took the fore in the 1960s. By then, many harp players had taken up bass or drums to keep work as sidemen in the local bands, and many others just gave up on music for years at a time. By the time Chicago's renown as blues capital of the world began to attract a growing influx of tourists from across the country and abroad in the '70s and '80s, most of the music promoted in the nightclubs was a new hybrid altogether. Folks who came to experience "Chicago blues," as defined by the small combo harp/guitar sound of the '50s records they'd heard, either tuned in to the city's new brand of blues or settled for the occasional sampling of the older music still offered by a few clubs on certain nights of the week.
The new audience for vintage sounds has, however, helped to bring a number of bluesmen from the '50s back to the performing stages and recording studios on occasion.

Originaly released on Rooster records in the US this is the UK release on Bedrock with the Rooster insert included.


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