Here, for your listening pleasure, is our fifth and final non-definitive (but no less essential for it) 1950s Blues in Chicago playlist. This round picks up where the previous post from 1954 left off and will eventually bring us to the end of the fifties and just beyond. Leading off is Robert Lockwood and his 1955 take on the “Sweet Home Chicago” theme, popularized in the 1930s by his “stepfather” Robert Johnson. We’ve also got a couple of tough Parrot/Chess numbers by J. B. Lenoir. By the mid- to late-fifties, the South and West sides of Chicago were beginning to usher in the modern blues guitar sound pioneered by B. B. King, with young turks like Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, and others leading the foray. Even Elmore James and Muddy Waters were sporting a tough new sound, and Memphis Slim, formerly fronting a sax-led guitarless band, was now using Matt Murphy to great effect.
Robert Lockwood Jr., vocal/guitar; Ernest Cotton, tenor sax; Sunnyland Slim, piano; poss. Alfred Elkins, bass; Alfred Wallace, drums. Chicago, c. May 1955 Label image: George Paulus, courtesy of The Red Saunders Research Foundation
Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys inaugurate Volume Nine of Blues What Am with a longtime favorite (his and ours), “Sitting on Top of the World.” In fact we confess to liking Bob and the boys’ version(s) better than the original(s) by the Mississippi Sheiks. Fifteen years separate these two Wills recordings, the first starting with an old-time New Orleans street parade feel and the later recording after hours and very bluesy. Hard to pick a favorite so we’re playing ’em both.
Muddy Waters, vocal; Little Walter, harmonica; Jimmy Rogers, guitar; Otis Spann, piano; Willie Dixon, bass; Fred Below, drums. Chicago, 1 September 1954 Get it: Blues Hit Big Town (“’Bout the Break of Day”); The Anthology (“I’m Ready”)
Today’s Odds & Ends entry showcases Dolly Parton’s first record “Puppy Love,” issued by the Goldband label of Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1959. Recorded when she was just thirteen it’s a far cry, or howl, from Dolly’s future development and direction.
“LeAnn Rimes, a mere thirteen when ‘Blue’ was released . . . began her career self-consciously out of date. ‘Blue’ is the very definition of what gets called traditional: a pedal-steel-driven Texas shuffle combined with a vocal performance that sighs like Patsy Cline (Bill Mack wrote the song specifically for Patsy, though she never recorded it) and yodels like Eddy Arnold. This was on the radio in 1996?”—David Cantwell, Heartaches by the Number
*“If we determined we had nothing much worthwhile to add to the conversation about a single, then that record didn’t make the cut, no matter how good it was. . . . [T]hose singles were were bumped down to “Once More with Feeling: An Alternate 100.” That supplemental list gathers, for the curious, our runners up, but, just as importantly, it presents an alternate, compressed version of the arguments made throughout the book.” —David Cantwell, Bill Friskics-Warren, “How to Use the Book” in Heartaches by the Number