Key to the Highway
Blind John Davis
I’m sorry it has been so long since my last entry but in April I had a surgery which will keep me from driving for several months ahead. I am doing okay but just have to do everything possible to avoid infection, including staying off my feet absolutely as much as possible. My cousin and his family are down from Vancouver and wished to see the station, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this show. We also intend on seeing Johnnie Cozmik’s J.C. Smith Band at Mountain Charlie’s in Los Gatos in the evening before they head back north. There Johnnie, I got that plug in!
Today’s show has been in the planning stages since the beginning of the year and, since it was intended to follow the pre-Jazz marathon show, I wanted it to be as strong a purely Blues edition as I could get while maintaining the format I have been sticking to. What better representative could we have from the pure Blues vein than Jimmy Reed? Filling the requirement of a horn-based entry, we have the dynamic voice of Roy Brown. And true to our habit of finding a complementary third performer often being a pianist, we have Blind John Davis. One thing missing from today’s airing is a power guitar player from Chicago’s 60s and beyond, but there will be few shows coming up with that same omission.
Since I’ve had these three artists chosen for almost six months now, you might think I had this essay in the can a long time ago, but I told you guys before that I’m a procrastinator and work best with a deadline, so I’ll be lucky to have this finished by Tuesday night before the show.
So make yourself comfortable and check out the show. enjoy
In 1953, Jimmy Reed was disappointed that he had been turned down by the dominant Blues label in Chicago, Chess Records, due to their being too busy with established stars like Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin' Wolf, but this decision wound up in no way hurting Mr. Reed as the upstart Vee Jay Records signed him to what would ultimately become one of the best pairings in Blues history.
Born Mathis James Reed in Dunlieth, Mississippi on September 6th 1925, he was one of ten children of sharecroppers Joseph Reed and Virginia Ross. He was brought up with Spirituals, becoming an integral part of the Gospel group at Meltonia’s Baptist church in his teens, but music for the most part would just be a diversion from the everyday field work. He did, however, make it a daily habit to be home for Sonny Boy Williamson’s fifteen minute King Biscuit Time broadcast out of Helena, Arkansas.
His friend Eddie Taylor taught him enough guitar and harmonica to get him performing and busking the streets of the area. Whatever it was the youthful Reed did to antagonize a white boss, he was quick to heed a brother’s advice and take a fast train out of town, winding up in Chicago where he could stay with another brother. Despite his all-too-limited rural education that still left him illiterate, Jimmy was anxious to pull his own weight and, after a brief stint as a cleaner, settled into a job with a coal company.
A 1993 collection of articles mostly from Guitar Player Magazine titled Blues Guitar: The Men Who Made the Music, is a wonderful resource for this essay and, I’m sure others to come, using today a 1976 entry by Dan Forte; not really an interview because he appears to ask no questions but just lets Jimmy tell his tale, as these examples attest. “Didn’t nobody teach me how to play the guitar. I just started off trying to fool with a box ever since I was about nine or ten years old. I wasn’t making too much progress at it then, but I just kept trying to do it. Eddie Taylor and me were raised up in the cotton patch together in Mississippi, and we’d fool around with guitars when we got off work in the fields.”
“When I was eighteen I went into the service, and when I come out, at about twenty, I wanted to try it all over again. I was working in the steel mill and listening to that old Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, The Aces, all of them.” (Noteworthy to me is his inclusion of The Aces, an underappreciated backing trio whom I hope to highlight in the near future.)
In 1943, not too long after his move to Chicago, Reed was drafted into the Navy but missed being deployed overseas when he came down with the German measles and wound up as a kitchen worker in California; this appears to be when he acquired his lifelong love of liquor. Discharged in 1945, Jimmy returned to Mississippi and farming with his parents.
Within a year or two, Jimmy married his girlfriend Mary before moving on to Gary, Indiana, where he toiled for the Armour meatpacking company, worked the streets with single-string guitarist Willie Joe Duncan, and joined the Gary Kings, headed up by guitarist John Brim. Indeed, it was the Kings' drummer Albert Nelson (a later name change informs us that, yes, the famous left-handed guitarist known as Albert King began as a drummer) who later got Jimmy to look into Vee Jay.
“So this friend, Willie Joe Duncan, had this piece of wire. Him and me used to get together and fool around in the alley, drinking and going on.” Although the pair was making more on the streets than their day jobs, Duncan pretty quickly relocated to California and eventually recorded for the Specialty label. This was also about the time Jimmy fashioned a neck rack so his harmonica could accompany his guitar, something unique at least in the vicinity.
While in the Gary / Chicago area, Jimmy would find work in the steel mills and foundries and at a mobile home company, all the while expanding his musical companions to include guitarist Floyd Jones, pianist Blind John Davis (whom we will hear in another of today’s segments), but most importantly regrouping with Eddie Taylor.
Reed had prepared some demo discs and the first place he took them was to Leonard Chess. “I asked him what he thought about them. He said, ‘Well, I tell you what: they sound nice. But I’m so tied up now with Muddy Waters, Walter and Wolf, I can’t accept nothing else right now. You’re going to have to catch me again later.’”
Mary, later to be known as just “Mama” Reed, also recalled the incident. “They would have recorded him….but they wanted Muddy Waters to play guitar for him and Little Walter to blow harmonica. And Jimmy said, ‘No, I’m playing my own harmonica. I don’t need Muddy Waters and Little Walter’. So he just forgot about Chess. And Leonard and them talked about that for years later: ‘Sure wished I had ‘a cut Jimmy Reed.’”
Following Albert King’s suggestion, Jimmy went to a record store in Gary run by Vivian and Jimmy Bracken, who were just starting up their Vee Jay label. As Vivian recalled, “At first when he came, he just played regular Blues. No gimmicks, no nothin’, just Blues. So I said, ‘Jimmy, you gotta get a gimmick. So just sit there and play your guitar and maybe you’ll hit on something’. …And there after seven hours he hits this: da-doom da-doom da-doom da-doom. I said, ‘That’s it, Jimmy! Just play it over and over and over’. And that took him for over fifteen years”.
Calvin Carter, an influential member of the Vee Jay team, recalled it substantially differently to writer Mike Callahan in Goldmine: “. . . he was playing harmonica for a guy named King David that we were interested in. So we were having a rehearsal with them one day, and we heard Jimmy play. We asked him. . . .‘Do you have any songs you’ve written?’ And he answers, ‘No, but I’ve got some I’ve made up.’”
He did his first session around June 6th 1953 backed by an unremembered bass player and a couple of his Gary Kings bandmates, guitarist John Brim and drummer Albert King, although the name Morris Wilkerson is also mentioned as possibly the drummer. The date produced Jimmy’s first two single releases, High and Lonesome b\w Roll and Rhumba and Jimmie's Boogie b\w I Found my Baby. The Brackens were just getting established so they gave initial distribution and promotion for the first pairing to Chance Records, but quickly reissued it as Vee Jay #100.
After his Vee Jay session, in December 1953 Jimmy joined the Brims, John and his drummer wife Grace, for their Parrott single of Tough Times and Gary Stomp, the latter considered to be possibly Jimmy’s career-best harmonica segment.
Reed was not really a good instrumentalist, leading to his writing much of his own material and creating a somewhat crude sound unique in the Blues, with songs interpreted by many but never duplicated. A major factor in Reed's success was his teaming up again with guitarist Taylor; nobody knew better how to complement Reed’s musical abilities (or lack thereof) than his childhood companion. Eddie was there for Jimmy’s second session in December of 1963 along with drummer King and guitarist John Littlejohn and was present almost without exception through 1959. The December date’s result was Jimmy’s first chart posting with You Don't Have to Go b\w Boogie in the Dark reaching #5 after entering on March 5th.
“. . . she had Eddie Taylor there to play background behind me! So on some of them records there was him, me, (guitarist) Lefty Bates, a drummer – and my son (Jimmy “Boonie” Reed, Jr.) had been fooling with my guitar and got pretty good himself. So I had something like four guitars, and the drums made five, and I was blowing harmonica, too, just like I do it now. The one that made me want to get a harmonica was old man Sonny Boy Williamson -- the original (John Lee Williamson), the one that did ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”. He could play some stuff! I was fooling with it in Mississippi and started playing with a harness in about ’52.”
As Eddie Taylor recalled the early sessions to Mike Rowe, “We teamed back up together. At that time he wasn’t going nowhere. Wasn’t hitting no nothing. Just rapping on the guitar and blowing on the harmonica. So I just told him lighten up off his guitar and blow his harmonica and I PUT THE BEAT TO IT.”
Here’s a quote about Taylor from the Forte article: “He helped me on all my records but about two.” And his son: “He don’t like the Blues. He’s a Rock and Roll type. . . . I think he was, I should say, ten or eleven years old when he first played on a record of mine.” According to Charley’s liner notes to the 6CD box set The Vee Jay Years, which is the source for all of today’s Jimmy Reed music, Jimmy Reed, Jr. first appeared in 1961.
“Back in 1954 Vee Jay put out this thing I had cut about You Don’t have to Go with Boogie in the Dark, a stone instrumental, on the reverse side. One evening I was coming home from the Armour Packing Company – I’d quit the iron foundry and was working as a butcher – and I heard this old number about You Don’t Have to Go over the air. The guy on the radio said, ‘That’s Jimmy Reed; he’s going to be out in Atlanta, Georgia, this Friday and Saturday night’ – and this was Thursday evening! I didn’t know that I was booked in Atlanta. I headed home, grabbed my junk, headed to the studio to cut a couple of numbers, and told Eddie Taylor, ‘Eddie, I’m supposed to be in Atlanta, Georgia. You going down there with me?’ He said, ‘Yeah, wherever you want to go!’ So we bought a little jug and struck out driving to Atlanta.”
Taylor recalled to Living Blues, “Jimmy ain’t never had no band. He’d always get one guy to drive and he’d do his own show, play with the house band. Mostly, we’d play for white. That’s all they’d ask for – Jimmy Reed and Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino.”
“That was the first time I had went on the road or played anywhere before the public. I’d just been playing up and down the alley or at friends’ houses. I went to see other guys in Chicago playing in clubs – go by just to holler at them. I didn’t want to play or see the show either; I just wanted to speak to them. Muddy Waters, B.B. Kin, all of them big cats – ‘Oh, you’re Jimmy Reed? I’m so glad you came down here to see me. How much they charge you to come in?’ ‘Oh, they let me come in for nothing.’ ‘Well, come back in the dressing room.‘ And I’d go back and listen to them talking about this, that, and the other, but it didn’t mean too much to me; I didn’t know nothing.”
One session Taylor was not there for was a July 1955 date which featured two of Howlin’ Wolf’s sidekicks, pianist Henry Gray and drummer Earl Phillips. Phillips’ inclusion is especially noteworthy because, after sitting out Reed’s next two sessions, beginning in October 1956 he began a streak backing Jimmy on every recording through 1961. This July date brought out Jimmy’s next hit at #12 after I Don’t Go for That, paired with She Don’t Want Me No More, hit the charts on September 24th and set Jimmy’s career away from the local club scene, instead appearing with artists like Laverne Baker, Big Maybelle, and the Flamingos in package tours such as The Cavalcade of Rock and Roll along with concerts at high schools, stadiums and nightclubs throughout the next decade. Hometown Chicago became just a place to recuperate and record.
It was personally upsetting to me when, around 1967, a band I hung out with at most of their gigs, The Druids, appeared as the opening band for Reed at Losers North, a full alcohol club so I could not get in. Hell, none of these guys was over twenty-one and the lead singer was almost two years younger than me!
After Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby was released in February 1956, it became the biggest hit of Jimmy’s career, climbing to #3 R&B. With two more chartings that year and four in 1957, the last two also appearing in the Pop rankings, Reed was no doubt a major star of the Blues.
But Jimmy’s musical status was not paralleled by any type of business acumen, spending his royalties on fine clothes and a Cadillac, all the while under an alcoholic cloud. Reed suffered savagely from alcoholism to the point that Mary, better known as Mama Reed, would famously have to whisper the lyrics in his ear at his performances, even in the studio, all leading to a 1957 inaccurate diagnosis of delirium tremens when, in actually, it was epilepsy.
“I wasn’t never no pot smoker, and I never did fool with any of that cocaine or junk or crazy pills, but I’d drink me some liquor.” Somewhat of an understatement.
To assist Reed, a minder cum manager was appointed in Al Smith to oversee Jimmy’s spending, try to keep him sober enough to play, to save him from beatdowns or possibly even being shot. The Charley notes relay one example, “recalled by Red Holloway whilst working with Reed in Florida in 1958, when a promoter hearing of Reed’s drunken state (and possible cancellation of the gig) called the police to help out….Jimmy saw the police, and Al Smith said, ‘Jimmy….the man said that you’re drunk and that you wasn’t going on….and they’re gonna put your black ass in jail’. The threat was enough to sober Jimmy up enough to play. So, Al said to the policeman, ‘Hey, you wanna job? Just stay with us so we can keep this fucker in line’. Smith would remain with the Reeds into the 70s.
Byther Smith saw one upside to Jimmy’s drinking, as he explained to Norman Darwen in Blues & Rhythm. “He would ensure that we got paid before we did the show. He would say to the owner that he may be drunk at the end of the evening.”
Jimmy’s chart success slowed down with only one R&B hit in each of 1958 and 1959, but Down in Virginia did reach #93 on the Pop listing. The first two Reed sets today are a chronology of his chartings with Vee Jay and this concludes the first playlist.
Despite the drop-off of recent hits, there was no such drop-off in Jimmy’s touring popularity, and things fell back in place with three more entries in both 1960 and 1961. It is hard for me to realize that my favorite Reed hit, the March 1960 release of Baby What You Want Me to Do, would only make it to #10, but perhaps the musical tastes had changed since none of his other tunes would climb higher except the September 1961 release of Bright Lights, Big City, which would tie for his all time high at #3. It appears that from 1962 on, the R&B charts may have been dropped and everything went into the Pop standings, but that is merely an observation, not a fact.
I would also note that, while it was more likely during the 50s that Reed would not include a bass player on his recordings, the habit seems to have changed in the 60s and Willie Dixon played on the March 1960 session that included Big Boss Man. Unfortunately, the Charley CDs do not list the composers but I seem to recall an A. Dixon being listed, and Willie’s participation on the song leads me to wonder if he didn’t assign authorship to a family member, an action not uncommon, but this too is unfounded conjecture.
By this time, 33&1/3RPM LPs were becoming a strong part of a label’s arsenal and Jimmy became the first Blues artist to make it to the album charts with his August 1960 release Found Love, which featured recent tracks recorded between March of 1959 and March of 1960. All told, Vee Jay put out fourteen albums, many failures. One successful double release combined At Carnegie Hall (recorded there but not in concert) with The Best of Jimmy Reed.
Another LP was Jimmy Reed Sings the Best of the Blues, where Reed played some classic numbers, as Mama Reed explained to Living Blues, “Jimmy never wanted to do anybody else’s tunes….Boy, we had a hassle with him. Calvin (Carter) was tryin’ to get him to do these tunes….Take Out Some Insurance on Me was another….Jimmy did not want to record. Because he said it looked like everybody that recorded these type of tunes, they didn’t live long!”
Likely the worst album was one where they took some of Jimmy’s tracks and deleted his vocal, replacing it with a twelve string guitar for the melody. How does that qualify as a Jimmy Reed album? More like the Hollyridge Strings!
In November 1964, Jimmy did a month long tour of England which included an appearance on the BBC’s radio show Ready! Steady! Go! where he mouthed his September hit Shame Shame Shame and Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby.
Jimmy did his last session for Vee Jay in 1965, not long before the label folded. Reed came up with one more hit in 1966, Knocking at Your Door for the Exodus label. ABC-Bluesway released the album The New Jimmy Reed; and other albums of new material were released but failed in comparison to his older material which was still available at more reasonable prices.
Reed made it to Europe again in 1968, this time with The American Blues Festival, but his drinking affected his performances and the next year his alcoholism and health were so bad he had to give up appearing. In 1971 he made a return with new subpar recordings and a busy road schedule.
His comeback was halted in 1973 by further mental and physical health issues, not to mention a breakup with Mary. Jimmy spent much of 1974 in rehab, putting a lot of time into playing, as he told Mr. Forte, “During my first two or three records I wasn’t doing nothing but blowing the solo on the harmonica and starting off the intro on the guitar. Then the rest of the band would haul off and head into it. . . . I started trying to play my intro part, as much of the lead part as I could get in, do my singing part, blow the solo on the harmonica, and play the bass part all the way through, too. I started doing all that myself, which was a pretty hard thing. But it got me to the place where if I ain’t playing the lead part, it don’t sound right now, since I been doing it a few years.”
Jimmy was now over his alcoholism and 1975 saw a return to his touring until his death in Oakland from respiratory failure on August 29th 1976, eight days shy of his 51st birthday. He is interred at the Lincoln Cemetery in Worth, Illinois.
An abbreviated list of artists who recorded Jimmy Reed tunes would include The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds (with Eric Clapton), The Animals, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Jr, Lou Rawls, Van Morrison (when he was with Them), Charlie Rich, The Grateful Dead, Wishbone Ash, Etta James, Hot Tuna, Johnny and Edgar Winter, The Steve Miller Band, even Bill Cosby (back when we thought he was a human being). Kent “Omar” Dykes and Jimmy Vaughan put out a full album in tribute, On the Jimmy Reed Highway. Jimmy was voted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, and both Big Boss Man and Bright Lights, Big City (coincidentally, two of the songs you can hear Mama Reed keeping him on tempo) are included in the latter’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
While Roy Brown gained his fame as one of the early Blues shouters, he began his career as a crooner in the style of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, etc. While his first released and most famous song, Good Rockin’ Tonight, only reached #13 on the R&B charts, primarily because Wynonie Harris’ version came out immediately afterward and essentially absorbed all of the energy in the room, he had a full dozen top ten hits between 1948 and 1957, seven of them in 1948 and 1949 alone and two of those reaching #1. In 1956, Elvis Presley also had success in taking the Brown-written song to a new generation, as the tune became one of the most recorded numbers since versions came out through the decades by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Ricky Nelson, James Brown, The Doors, Bruce Springsteen, Montrose, and even that great “Rhythm and Blues master” Pat Boone (quotation marks provided to show sarcastic intent).
One of many black artists of the era whose birthdate falls into some dispute, it is considered most likely that Roy James Brown was born on September 10th 1920 in or near New Orleans, Louisiana. Roy and his mother, with the unique name True Love Brown who sang and played the organ in church, moved about the area and, at age twelve and living in Eunice, Louisiana, Roy became part of a spiritual quartet. After their performance of their original song Satan’s Chariots Rolling By in church had the members clapping, shouting, tapping their feet, and just generally feeling the rhythm, Roy expected his mother to be pleased but instead received a whipping for jazzing up the spirituals.
Relocating again, the youthful Brown would work in the sugarcane and rice fields between Morgan City and New Iberia. Roy listened to the field workers’ rhythms and lyrics but, always remembering his earlier punishment, he dared not join in the singing.
True Love Brown died of pneumonia when he was fourteen and Roy dropped out of high school and moved to Los Angeles. Strengthened by his work in the fields, Brown decided to take up professional boxing in the welterweight division for a while. Needing money, Roy went against his deceased mother’s wishes and began a less painful livelihood by crooning in amateur night competitions, including winning the Million Dollar Theater prize with his rendition of a Crosby number, There’s No You (Proper’s liner notes say it was I Got Spurs That Jingle, Jangle, Jingle).
By late 1943, Roy had relocated to Texas where Bill Riley hired him at his Shreveport club, Palace Park, because Brown was a black man who sounded white when he sang. It was during these nine months that Roy began to infuse Blues numbers into his repertoire.
All during the war being kept out of the military due to flat feet, in 1946 Roy moved on to Galveston, Texas, where he continued his crooning at the Club Granada. The Granada was run by Mary Russell, who also ran a brothel and dealt drugs, keeping her nightclub open by bribing police and municipal leaders and thus was able to employ the top local musicians including Roy’s six piece band, the Mellodeers, who even assisted in selling marijuana between sets. It was this colorful environment that was Brown’s inspiration to write and first perform Good Rockin’ Tonight.
Resulting from an affair with the wife of a Grenada financier, Roy departed quickly to New Orleans, arriving early in April 1947. Needing money, Roy wrote down the words to his song on a grocery bag and offered them to one of his idols, Wynonie Harris, who was performing in town. “When I was in high school, I used to attend the auditorium dances when Wynonie Harris was singing with Lucky Millender. I’d always say if I was ever going to be a Blues singer, I’d like to be that guy. He was flamboyant, a good looking guy, very brash. He was good and he knew it. He just took charge, I liked the style.”
Just off the bus, clothes disheveled and with cardboard covering the holes in his shoes, Roy walked to where Harris was appearing, only wanting a few bucks for his song just to get him by. Wynonie was a hugely popular Blues shouter, but he was just as well-known among the music world for his rude ways of dealing with people and his meeting with Roy was no exception, refusing to waste his time by even reading the lyrics. Brown recalls, “He’d walk into a bar and shout, ‘Here come the Blues . . . the drinks are on me – get to the bar’. Now you talk about conceited. I thought I was conceited, but this guy! He and Joe Turner would be on the same stage. He’d walk up to him and say, ‘What you gonna sing, fat boy?’ Joe Turner couldn’t read or write and Wynonie would say, ‘Sign this autograph!’”
Roy then walked a few blocks to where pianist Cecil Gant was playing. Unlike Harris, who didn’t even look at the song, Gant asked Brown to sing it. He was impressed by the song but even more by Roy’s voice and, despite it being 2:30 in the morning, called Jules Braun, the president of DeLuxe Records so Brown could sing it to him over the phone. The drowsy Braun listened once, then asked Roy to sing it again and, without a response, asked Brown to return the phone to Gant, reportedly telling him to “Give him $50 and don’t let him out of your sight.”
After quickly signing Roy to his label, Braun set up a session on May 12th 1947 at the Black Diamond and asked Roy to have four numbers ready, the other three being Lollypop Mama, Long About Midnight, and Miss Fanny Brown. It was a small studio in the rear of a record store and a tight fit for Roy and the members of Bob Ogden’s band, consisting of drums, bass, piano, trumpet and tenor sax, known as the Flashes of Rhythm. Roy was quick to credit the band. “I merely sung the song. They did a very good job, they did the arrangements . . . It was a good rockin’ thing, you know, and man, I just started singing . . . and I felt right at ease.” The tune is mentioned as the first recording incorporating Gospel into the Blues.
Cosimo Matassa, just starting out his studio and the man who would soon be responsible for recording much of the important R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll that came out of New Orleans from the late 40s into the 70s, was in the control room.
Roy would always remember Gant fondly. “He didn’t have a sensational voice, but he had something in that voice, something catchy . . . he made you feel what he was trying to convey to you. He was terrific, he was beautiful, he was responsible for my career.”
Roy’s stay with De Luxe brought in fourteen chartings from mid-1948 through 1951, with 1950’s Hard Luck Blues being his top seller. Brown stayed with De Luxe through 1952 but began recording for King Records the next year and Imperial in 1957. In 1952, Roy became one of the very few black artists of the 50s to win a lawsuit for back royalties. This might be linked via blacklisting to his sudden drop in recording success, but Brown was still capable of drawing good crowds even as the music scene was trending toward Doo Wop and Rock and Roll, the latter owing much of its existence to folks like Roy Brown.
Brown also had a problem with the IRS, even going to Elvis Presley for help, who wrote him a check on a brown paper bag, but that was insufficient to keep him from serving time for tax evasion. In order to get by in the 60s, Roy would sell his rights to Good Rockin’ Tonight and found jobs outside of music, including selling encyclopedias door to door.
He made a brief return to King in 1959 and continued to record occasionally during the 60s to little success, but his appearance at the 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival as one of the lead vocalists in the Johnny Otis Revue, resulting in one of my favorite live recordings of all time, brought him back into the limelight enough to sign with Mercury who had a hit with Love for Sale and later, in 1973, an album for ABC-Bluesway.
Brown’s life was taken on May 25th 1981 at the age of 56 by a heart attack but, as I hope today’s show attests, his music still throbs. He died near his home in the San Fernando Valley and the Reverend Johnny Otis performed the funeral service. Not long before his death, Brown performed at the Whisky A-Go-Go in West Hollywood and was among the headliners at the 1981 New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival. As B.B. King said, “As a singer, he had balls. He belted out tunes like Rockin’ at Midnight and Boogie at Midnight that everyone wanted to hear . . . Listening now, these records sound like early Rock ‘n’ Roll – but then again, so does Louis Jordan.” Roy was inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981.
Blind John Davis was born in Hattiesberg, Mississippi on December 7th 1913, but moved to Chicago when he was three. His vision loss occurred when he stepped on a nail at the age of nine and he took up piano in his teens in order to be able to earn an income playing at his father’s “sporting houses”. Mostly into Blues and Boogie Woogie, he could also fit some Jazz or Ragtime in, even a Tin Pan Alley tune every now and then.
He had the talent to become one of the key figures in the stable of famed producer Lester Melrose, creator of the “Bluebird sound”, from 1937 to 1942, backing such stars as Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red, John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, Memphis Minnie and Merline Johnson, whom he had performed with since his early days. He was also vocalist on his own recordings. He paired up with Lonnie Johnson in the 40s after being a part of several of Johnson’s sessions and appeared on most of Doctor Clayton’s later recordings.
From 1949 to 1952, he recorded with his own trio for MGM, then in 1952 made a tour of Europe with Broonzy, believed to be the first such engagement by any American Blues artists. Davis became better known in Europe than at home so he made most of his later recordings there.
In 1955, Davis’ wife died in the fire that burned down his Chicago home, at the same time destroying his collection of 1700 78s, many of which were unissued. He died on October 12th 1985 at the age of 71.
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.
You Don’t Have to Go
I Don’t Go for That
Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby
Can’t Stand to See You Go
I Love You Baby
Honey Where You Going
The Sun is Shining
Honest I Do
Down in Virginia
I’m Gonna Get My Baby
I Told You Baby
Jimmy Reed 33mins
Good Rockin’ Tonight
Hard Luck Blues
Roy Brown Boogie
Miss Fanny Brown
Trouble at Midnight
Boogie at Midnight
Long About Midnight
Rockin’ at Midnight
Ain’t Rockin’ No More
Roy Brown 28mins
O Solo Mio
Everybody’s Got the Blues
How Long Blues
Home Town Blues
Blind John Davis 19mins
Baby What You Want Me to Do
Big Boss Man
Bright Lights, Big City
Aw Shucks, Hush Your Mouth
Shame, Shame, Shame
Jimmy Reed 25mins
Bar Room Blues
Love Don’t Love Nobody
Queen of Diamonds
I’ve Got the Last Laugh Now
Rainy Weather Blues
Please Don’t Go
Mighty Mighty Man
Roy Brown 28mins
I Ain’t Got You
You Got Me Dizzy
State Street Boogie
Caress Me Baby
Goin’ to New York
I’m Mr. Luck
Take Out Some Insurance
Goin’ by the River (part one)
Jimmy Reed 23mins