Key to the Highway2016-10-12
Jimmy DawkinsBlind Willie Johnson
*************************.For today, I kinda recycled a show I put together for John Fuller's Backstroke show, part of KKUP’s Monday night Blues rotation from 10pm to 1am Monday. The first three artists listed above were included in that show so I had two write-ups all prepared and I did one on Jimmy Blythe this week, but if I run out of time we may not get to him. Unless you finf the harsh voice of Blind Willie Johnson irritating, I think you will be very happy with this presentation. Enjoy.
*************************Jimmy Dawkins is one of those perfect examples of the way I used to introduce myself to new artists. If you have followed my airings over the last quarter century here at KKUP, you might be aware that Magic Sam’s second album for the Delmark label, Black Magic from 1969, is to this day still my favorite album, EVER, so when I saw that three of the sidemen from that album were on another one backing some guitarist with the nickname “Fast Fingers” (also the title of the LP) there was an extremely good chance this would be my kind of music. To be found here are saxophonist Eddie Shaw, piano man Lafayette Leake and guitarist Mighty Joe Young, Young having been on both of Sam’s Delmark studio sessions, and indeed I was not disappointed. Players of note on his second album, All for Business and again for Delmark with three tunes making up our second set, are guitarist Otis Rush and tenor sax player Jim Conley. Sonny Thompson, who had done so much for King Records (songwriting, arranging and producing), particularly for Freddie King, is relegated here to only playing keyboards. Jimmy only sings two songs for the album, and we hear him on Down So Long, while Andrew “Big Voice” Odom takes care of all the rest. Odom also served in the same capacity on some of Earl Hooker’s stuff.
Jimmy had honed his chops on the club scene of Chicago’s West Side for more than a decade before Delmark gave him this, his first recording opportunity under his own name. Mississippi born and moved to Chicago in 1955, Jimmy gave up his day job in the factory in 1957 once he bought a guitar in order to pursue his music. “I’m determined at what I do. I set out to play music, so I play it. No money, cheap money, small money, no gigs. And we stayed with it. I stayed out there. I didn’t quit . . . scared I couldn’t make it in the business.” When he came to the attention of Delmark’s Bob Koester, Dawkins backed recordings by Carey Bell, Luther Allison, Mighty Joe Young and Sleepy John Estes before recording three albums of his own. Later in the 70s, Willie Dixon used Jimmy many times as a sideman. “He just kept me in the studio, teaching me a lot, helping me.” For a couple of years, while Jimmy Rogers was with Muddy Waters, Dawkins was part of Rogers’ road group.
In 1971 Jimmy received France’s Grand Prix du Disc award for the Fast Fingers album and at one point, Downbeat magazine voted him the best Rock / Pop / Blues act worthy of more attention. Health issues in the 80s, however, caused Jimmy to cut back on his club work and restrict his performances to festivals and foreign tours. He released two European LPs and started up his own label, Leric, to produce albums by lesser known West Side Blues artists. Putting in much of his time on the business side of the music world, he also involved himself in booking, promotion and publishing. Jimmy also contributed articles about the Chicago Blues scene to the British magazine Blues Unlimited.
I skipped a couple of his European albums in my collection because there is plenty of better music for today’s show. Jimmy came back with a fury in his axe in 1991 when he released an album on the Earwig label, Kant Shek Dees Bluze. Yeah, my computer’s editor tried to tell me that most of the titles were misspelled but it irritates me like that fairly often. Nora Jean Wallace takes a couple of the vocals on the album (we only hear A Love L:ike That) and he employs a couple of familiar names in his band – pianist “Professor” Eddie Lusk, who I know had been in the bands of Otis Rush and Luther Allison, and Johnny B. Gayden, who provided some of the best bass playing ever recorded when he backed Albert Collins. Second guitarist Jimmy Flynn had been in the Legendary Blues Band since 1984 and drummer Ray Scott was a longtime member of the Dawkins ensemble.
While Jimmy didn’t quite reach the pinnacle of my favorites like Howlin’ Wolf or his contemporaries Freddie King, Magic Sam and Luther Allison, he fits comfortably atop the second tier among the likes of Otis Rush and Buddy Guy.
*************************Blind Willie Johnson was a gospel-based Bluesman, backing up his mostly religious lyrics with an excellent slide guitar technique. Oftentimes heard contrasting his raspy bass vocals was the more angelic voice of his first wife, Willie B. Harris. Johnson's was the earliest recording that I am aware of, and much more uniquely gruff than those who followed, in the style that became the trademark of Charlie Patton and Howlin' Wolf.
Blind Willie was believed born in Marlin, Texas in 1902. His mother died in his infancy, but it was his stepmother who, while in an argument with his father, made the boy blind by throwing lye in the face of the seven year old. Like so many of his era with this handicap, teaching himself guitar and singing on the streets became a viable life option.
Johnson recorded for Columbia and his first session in 1927 produced "Dark was the Night (Cold was the Ground)", an eerie instrumental accompanied only by his moans, which was chosen to be included as an artifact on the Voyager One probe into space. Sorry, I’ve heard it but don’t have it. Another of his songs got him thrown in jail when, unaware that he was in front of a Federal building in Dallas, he made the innocent choice of playing "If I Had My Way I'd Tear this Building Down". Although his recording sessions only lasted into 1931, as the Great Depression brought about the demise of numerous recording careers, many of his songs would be included in the repertoires of artists as varied as Son House, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Al Kooper, Hot Tuna and Peter, Paul and Mary.
Johnson's ambitions lay elsewhere, and after his brief recording career, he became a Baptist minister whose congregation could be found on the street corners as he performed spirituals just as fervently as he had played his Blues on the streets of his past, and continued doing so until he died of pneumonia in 1947.
*************************I saw Nappy Brown at the San Francisco Blues Festival one year and the girl I took with me purchased a 2CD set of his early material. So, years afterward, I borrowed it from her and ripped it to my computer for a purpose such as this. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to copy any of the biographical info and I’ve been spending too much time listening to our political situation lately to put something together, but that does nothing to negate the quality of his great R&B.
*************************.In the early twenties, before it became commonplace to hear piano players on record, the easiest way of making a permanent record of the best players was through piano rolls. These could be heard in homes or nickelodeons, and possibly the most prolific of these players was Jimmy Blythe, with around 300 rolls, and in his short life he amassed a similar number of 78 releases, and the Jazz / Blues / Boogie Woogie pianist / composer’s Chicago Stomp is considered to be one of the first recorded examples, if not the first, of Boogie Woogie. We don’t have access to that one, but we do have his solo performances of Society Blues and Alley Rat. Sandwiched in between those, we have placed a recording with Johnny Dodds, clarinetist for Louis Armstrong (Weary Way Blues), and Don’t Fish in My Sea, where he backs the vocal of Ma Rainey.
Born James Louis Blythe on May 20th 1901 in South Keene, Kentucky, he was the youngest of five siblings brought into the world by Rena and Richard Blythe. His parents were born into slavery but were then sharecroppers. His interest in piano was piqued by local Ragtime players, and soon after moving to Chicago in 1917 he began studying under orchestra leader Clarence M. Jones. It is likely that in the next few years, Blythe began his composing in Jones’ recording studio as well as working his way around the club scene, but for a while he supported himself with his job at the Mavis Talcum Powder Company.
Early in 1922, Jimmy took on a job at the Columbia Piano Roll Company, later to become Capitol when the company re-organized in 1924. Writer Bill Edwards remarked that Blythe "was able to take simple popular songs and create an engaging performance from them in short order. Many of these were taken from the simple sheet music and expanded to include Blues riffs, stride or boogie-woogie bass, and even pseudo-novelty figures. Musicians around Chicago and beyond worked to emulate his engaging style as his fame grew".
Jimmy went into the Paramount studio in 1924 along with Alex J. Robinson, who co-wrote several tunes with Blythe and, in his first session, laid down Chicago Stomp, which would become his best known recording. In his authoring, Jimmy sometimes used the pen names Duke Owens or George Jefferson. Over the next few years, Blythe accompanied many of Paramount’s artists in addition to his own sessions, but the Great Depression slowed everything down and Jimmy only recorded two sides in 1930, these for Robinson’s band, the Knights of Rest. He came down with meningitis and passed away on June 14th 1931 at the young age of thirty.
*************************Since it is still relatively new, I thought I’d mention that KKUP is now streaming on the internet and, while it is still in a developing stage, we have been putting out the word. I’m not all of that good with high-tech stuff, but it seems pretty easy to access. If you go to our website at KKUP.org you will see on the home page a strip of options immediately above the pictures of the musicians the next to the last option being LISTEN ONLINE. By clicking this, it brings up a choice of desktop or mobile. I can only speak for the desktop but after maybe a minute I was receiving a crystal clear feed. As already mentioned, this is still a work in progress and we are currently limited to a finite number of listeners at any one time. I mention this so you will be aware to turn off the application when you are not actually listening. (I put the player in my favorites bar for the easiest of access.) Now we can reach our listeners in Los Gatos and Palo Alto, even my family in Canada. Let your friends elsewhere know they can now listen to your favorite station, and while they have the home page open they can check out our schedule.
*************************I Wonder Why
I’m Good for Nothing
It Serves Me Right to Suffer
Jimmy Dawkins 24mins
Lord, I Just Can’t Keep From Crying
John the Revelator
You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond
Let Your Light Shine on Me
Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right
If I Had My Way I’d Tear This Building Down
I’m Gonna Run to the City of Refuge
Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave It There
Take a Stand
The Soul of a Man
Blind Willie Johnson 31mins
Moon ManDown So Long
Sweet Home Chicago
Jimmy Dawkins 16mins
Don’t Be AngryTwo Faced Woman (and a Lying Man)
I’m in the Mood
Just a Little Love
Well, Well, Well Baby La
Open Up That Door
A Long Time
I’m Gonna Get You
Little By Little
Nappy Brown 35mins
I Ain’t Got ItWes Cide Bluze
A Love Like That
My Man Loves Me
Made the Hard Way
Rockin’ D Blues
Jimmy Dawkins 38mins
Society BluesWeary Way Blues
Don’t Fish in My Sea