Never let it be said you could hear a disco tune on the Magic Jukebox, but, uh, this is Shirley Goodman of Shirley & Lee fame, and, well, um, it is really good. . . .
And . . . and Tricky Dick’s on the cover, shamed cuz he can’t dance too.
Summer of 1979 I was visiting friends in Québec City and walking around a lot and I saw billboards all over the place with this Nana Mouskouri person wearing Buddy Holly glasses and wondered, “whaaat is this. . . ?” A couple years later, I stepped into a mall record shop in southern California and “Adieu Angelina” was playing over the sound system. Recognizing it as “Farewell, Angelina” from Joan Baez’s 1965 recording, it struck a nerve instantly, and I bought the LP right then and there. Some of the other tunes, covers of the Ames Brothers, etc., were not quite my cup of tea, but an added bonus was “Outward Bound” (heard here as “En Partant”), Tom Paxton’s evocation of the Kennedy years when things in the U.S. seemed to hold more promise than what eventually played out. And there you have it. My story and stickin’ to it. . . .
Fred McDowell (lead guitar) and his teacher, Eli Green (vocals and second guitar), recorded at Eli’s shack in Holly Springs, Mississippi, March 1965. Towards the end of the song, the forward momentum begins to accelerate out of control, leaving Fred and Eli behind as they collapse in raucous laughter. Good times.
Boss Man of the Blues has always been my favorite Jimmy Reed album, most likely because it was the first Jimmy Reed album I picked up, way back around 1966 when I first started getting hooked on blues. Even though most of the songs were recorded after his glory days in the early- to mid-50s, there was still much to like from his early- to mid-60s period. And for a novice blues hound, there was also a bit of an education to be had along the way. This was the album that introduced me to the standards “St. Louis Blues” and “Outskirts Of Town.” For all my friends and I knew at the time, they were Jimmy Reed compositions. Though most the of tunes on this LP are from the 1962–1963 period, there are also two great instrumentals from the 1950s, the spare, insistent “Roll And Rhumba,” and “Odds And Ends” with its atmospheric electric violin played by “Levinsky” (aka Remo Biondi). A couple of other high points are “Too Much” with its guttural vocal, and the tender, poetic “Caress Me Baby.” And the various Vee-Jay rhythm sections led by guitarists Eddie Taylor and Lefty Bates hold Jimmy’s laconic sound together in fine fashion.
Henry Thomas, nicknamed “Ragtime Texas,” was born in 1874 in Big Sandy, Texas by most accounts, a town that lies roughly between Dallas and Shreveport. The 1874 date marks him as one of the eldest-born blues performers on record. “Flailing his guitar,” Tony Russell writes, “in now forgotten country dance rhythms, whistling delicate melodies on his panpipes, gruffly chanting rag songs and blues, Thomas is a figure of almost legend.” The portrait Thomas presents on his twenty-three recordings cut for Vocalion between 1927 and 1929 provides, Russell notes, “a wholly absorbing picture of black country music before it was submerged beneath the tidal wave of the blues.” Thomas embodied the term songster, cutting blues, rags, country stomps, refashioned coon songs and square dance numbers. Thomas was the archetypal rambling musician who went wherever the railroads would take him. According to Mack McCormick, as told to him by a former railroad conductor, “Ragtime Texas was a big fellow that used to come aboard at Gladewater or Mineola or somewhere in there. I’d always carry him, except when he was too dirty. He was a regular hobo, but I’d carry him most of the time. That guitar was his ticket.” Speaking of [Thomas’] famous “Railroadin’ Some,” William Barlow calls it the most “vivid and intense recollection of railroading” in all the early blues recorded in the 1920s. As for his guitar, Stephen Calt ranked his work “with the finest dance blues ever recorded . . . its intricate simultaneous treble picking and drone bass would have posed a challenge to any blues guitarist of any era.” The panpipes also linked him to an earlier era and are most evocative in perhaps his best-known composition, “Bull-Doze Blues,” a song reworked by Canned Heat as “Going Up The Country” some 40 years after the original. After making his final recordings in Chicago in 1929, Henry Thomas disappeared completely from sight. As befits his near-mythic stature some reports claim to have seen him perform as late as the mid-1950s on Texas street corners. It is believed that he most likely passed away sometime during this period. All of Thomas’ recordings can be found on Texas Worried Blues on Yazoo and Henry Thomas (“Ragtime Texas”) 1927–1929 on Document with little difference in sound quality, although the Yazoo features detailed notes by Stephen Calt. —Jeff Harris
Following are several Henry Thomas tunes, including my all-time favorite, “Don’t Ease Me In,” along with his justly famous “Bull-Doze Blues” and the great travelogue “Railroadin’ Some.” We also hear from Al Wilson and Canned Heat with their revamp of “Bull-Doze,” a goofy homage to “my dear Henry” by The Lovin’ Spoonful, and a cover of Canned Heat’s cover by the teenage family trio Kitty, Daisy & Lewis bringing the music of Henry Thomas full circle and into the twenty-first century.
Jeff Harris presides over the excellent Big Road Blues blog and radio show of the same name. The show airs on Sundays from 5 to 7 pm (EST) on WGMC Jazz90.1. Check him out. . . . (The above Henry Thomas bio is from Jeff’s notes to the Big Road Blues Show 8/14/11: Texas Worried Blues – Early Texas Masters.)