Featuring: The Jimmy Johnson Blues Band Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang Left Hand Frank and His Blues Band Carey Bell's Blues Harp Band
THE JIMMY JOHNSON BLUES BAND: JIMMY JOHNSON...
Featuring: The Jimmy Johnson Blues Band Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang Left Hand Frank and His Blues Band Carey Bell's Blues Harp Band
THE JIMMY JOHNSON BLUES BAND: JIMMY JOHNSON, Guitar and Vocals LARRY BURTON, Rhythm Guitar CARL SNYDER, Keyboards IKE ANDERSON, Bass DINO ALVAREZ, Drums
EDDIE SHAW AND THE WOLF GANG: EDDIE SHAW, Saxophone and Vocals HUBERT SUMLIN, Guitar JOHNNY “BIG MOOSE” WALKER, Keyboards LAFAYETTE “SHORTY” GILBERT, Bass CHICO CHISM, Drums
LEFT HAND FRANK AND HIS BLUES BAND: FRANK CRAIG, Guitar And Vocals DIMESTORE FRED, Harmonica POCKETWATCH PAUL, Rhythm Guitar BOB STROGER, Bass ODIE PAYNE, JR., Drums
CAREY BELL’S BLUES HARP BAND: CAREY BELL, Harmonica And Vocals LURRIE BELL, Guitar BOB RIEDY, Piano ARON BURTON, Bass ODIE PAYNE, JR., Drums
Produced by Bruce Iglauer and Richard McLeese Recorded at Mantra and Curtom Studios, Chicago, IL Freddie Breitberg, Engineer, Assisted by Eddie B. Flick Album Design by Ross & Harvey Graphics Cover Photos by Jim Matusik Photo Credits: Steve Tomashefsky, Amy O'Neal, and D. Shigley Thanks to Roy Filson, Rick Kreher, J.C. Moore and Dick Shurman Coordinated for Compact Disc and Cassette re-release by Bob DePugh, David Forte and Bruce Iglauer Liner Note Updates by Bruce Iglauer Reissue Design and Production by Matt Minde 1991 Remastering by Tom Coyne at DMS, New York, NY
From the original 1978 release:
Every night in Chicago, the sounds of blues bands reverberate from narrow barrooms, basement taverns, and small, modest lounges throughout the city. At black neighborhood bars on the South and West Sides, decorated with Christmas tinsel, day-glo zodiac posters, handwritten signs on the walls; at the more publicized, fashionable nightspots on the North Side; or just at house parties out on the streets- the blues men and women of Chicago are singing, shouting, crying, laughing, celebrating. Songs of hard times, heartbreak, loneliness; songs to drive the blue feelings away, to rock the night and let the good times roll.
This is the living, continuing blues tradition of Chicago. Vibrant music with rich heritage of legendary names and classic songs from years gone by--but music not resigned to mere history. The blues still speaks to neighborhood crowds at clubs like Theresa’s, Florence’s, The Checkerboard, Pepper’s, Porter’s, Queen Bee’s and Morris Brown’s on the South Side, Eddie Shaw’s New 1815 Club, Ma Bea’s, The Majestic, The Golden Slipper, and The Poinciana on the West Side. And in recent years blues has drawn white audiences to popular North Side clubs: The Wise Fools Pub, Elsewhere, Kingston Mines, Biddy Milligan’s and others. The North Side clientele and décor differ, and the atmosphere is not so loose as in the black taverns. But, black or white, the blues clubs are much the same size and offer fine entertainment at similar prices. The small bands echo the sounds of the 1950s and ‘60s, but they’ve updated the music, too, with new patterns, new rhythms. In an era of pervasive rock, soul and disco trends, blues has thrived in the Chicago bars.
On weekends, clubgoers can find live blues at 20 or 30 clubs. Hundreds of singers and instrumentalists appear in the blues joints every year, just as they have ever since the 1940s and ‘50s, when thousands of blacks were arriving in Chicago from Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Louisiana. Today, black Southern musicians no longer migrate to the city in such numbers, but a whole new generation of bluesmen has grown up in the urban streets. And on the North Side, young white performers from the suburbs, the East and Midwest have moved in to participate with the blues veterans, sharing bands as well as bandstands.
The blues men of the ‘70s, like their predecessors, are men who live the blues, and live for the blues. Many have to work in factories, steel mills, or garages to make ends meet when the local blues gigs pay a man only $15 or $20 a night. But the blues is more than a weekend hobby to these musicians. The wages may be low, but the quality of the music is undeniably high. Chicago tavern musicians have set standards which have influenced popular music the world over. They may be featured as singers and bandleaders one night, while on the next gig they might work as sidemen in another band. Even on their nights off they’re likely to show up at a blues club, where patrons are continually treated to spontaneous jams and unadvertised guest performances. The crowds in the black clubs are mostly working people from the neighborhood. Sometimes they’re still dressed in work clothes. But the cab driver at the next table might also be a blues singer just back from a tour from France; maybe the mechanic sitting at the bar will suddenly be up on stage, blowing a harmonica or rocking the house with a guitar boogie.
Actually, “on stage” is a misnomer when it comes to most blues clubs. Bands often simply stand in a corner, or sit on their amplifiers, just a few feet from the audience. If there is a bandstand, it’s probably tiny and cramped, with barely enough room for four or five musicians at a time. Dressing rooms and special lounging areas for the stars are almost unheard of. Bluesmen share drinks and conversation with friends and neighbors between –and during-sets. In the blues bars, it’s a 9 p.m.-to-2 (or 4) a.m. world of live musical excitement, good natured-banter, friendly crowds, musicians who always have time for their fans, and honest songs wrought with power and emotion. And usually, all it costs to hear some of the world’s great music is a dollar at the door, if admission is charged at all, and 75 cents or a dollar a beer.
Yet most bluesmen have played their blues in taverns, week after week, year after year, unknown to all but the local patrons. There was a period of commercial blues recording in the 1950s, when companies like Chess and VeeJay were turning out hit singles, and the R&B disc jockeys and promoters were pushing the blues artists. But even then, the great majority of Chicago’s bluesmen were never able to record with any regularity, if indeed they recorded at all.
Today the powerful recording conglomerates show little interest in blues, and most blues singers must depend on small, independent companies which operate from storefronts or producers’ homes. The occasional 45s are distributed to ghetto record shops, jukeboxes, and amateur DJs who shout and spin records in the corner taverns. With luck, or enough money, a record might get a little airplay on the radio. The few Chicago companies which issue blues albums deal mainly with a market of white fans, students and collectors. Success in this market can mean gigs in college towns, or European tours which are more grueling than glamorous. Labels such as Delmark, Arhoolie, Prestige/Bluesville, Testament, and Vanguard were instrumental in putting many major Chicago bluesmen on LP for the first time during the 60s. Alligator’s Living Chicago Blues series, in fact, owes its inspirations to a historic sent of Vanguard albums (Chicago/The Blues/Today!), produced by Sam Charters in 1965/66. The men Charters recorded--Otis Rush, Junior Wells, James Cotton, Homesick James, the late Otis Spann, and others--went on to win international recognition and record several albums apiece for other labels. But today, many other excellent artists remain unrecorded, or with a mere handful of obscure releases to their credit. From this deep pool of overlooked or undiscovered talent come the artists who appear on the Living Chicago Blues series.
When Charters produced and annotated Chicago/The Blues/Today! he wrote, “In Chicago, on the South Side, it’s still today for the blues.” More than a decade later, it is still today for the blues in Chicago. As it was yesterday, as it will be tomorrow. Living Chicago Blues.
THE JIMMY JOHNSON BLUES BAND
One of the major Chicago blues phenomena of the 1970s has been The Transformation of Jimmy Johnson. At the age of 45, Jimmy Johnson decided to become a bluesman. And what a bluesman he has become--he’s one of the modern Chicago blues idiom’s most impressive singers and guitarists, a progressive stylist who combines technical expertise with searing, gospel-influenced vocals.
The blues isn’t really new to Jimmy. He had sung and played blues before, but blues was just one style among several that he performed well, as leader of a versatile show band which specialized in the jukebox soul and R&B hits. Jimmy still does tunes like “Theme From Shaft” and “My Girl,” and jazz instrumentals like “Take Five.” He hasn’t lost his versatility; he’s just found new strength in his commitment to the blues.
It would have been surprising if Jimmy hadn’t sung blues, considering his family history. His father played blues guitar and harmonica in Mississippi, and Jimmy’s younger brothers, Mac and Syl, took up the blues early on. Mac went on to become Magic Sam’s bass player on the West Side and has toured Europe and recorded with other blues artists. Syl is now a popular soul singer, with a style strongly rooted in blues; in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s he too was performing in a more basic Chicago blues vein. Both brothers were already professional bluesmen when Jimmy was still working as a welder and singing and playing guitar in Chicago gospel groups. Back in Mississippi, where he was born on Nov. 25, 1928, in the town of Holly Springs, Jimmy had sung in church. He later sang with the United Five, a spiritual group, in Memphis and with the Golden Jubilaires after moving to Chicago in 1950.
Jimmy’s move into the secular world of rhythm & blues began in 1959 as he sat in with Magic Sam and Freddie King and gigged with Harmonica Slim Willis and others. Sam, Otis Rush, and M.T. Murphy each left an impression upon Jimmy’s developing guitar style, which evolved further with lessons from Reggie Boyd, a renowned Chicago music instructor. Jimmy was already good enough in 1960 for promoter-bandleader Jump Jackson to send an audition tape of “Jimmy Thompson” to Europe. Thompson is Jimmy’s true surname--it’s brother Syl’s, too, but after Syl’s first records were mistakenly credited to “Syl Johnson,” the new name stuck.
The ‘60s were the years when blues records began to slide down and off the R&B charts. Jimmy possessed a growing musical knowledge, broad tastes, and a keen ear for the new, more popular commercial sounds. He was by then well qualified to lead the house bands at clubs like The Happy Home, The Blue Flame, The White Rose (in Phoenix, Illinois), and The Brass Rail, where he worked until the early ‘70s. Jimmy and his band did shows on their own as well as with Syl, Walter Jackson, Otis Clay, Garland Green, Denise LaSalle, and other soul acts. He did studio work for One-der-ful Records, had a couple of soul 45s on the Stuff label, and was featured on The Deacons Sock It To Me, a 1968 release on Syl’s Shama label which made the national charts.
But Jimmy began to feel that this musical road was taking him nowhere. He disbanded his group and took a job as second guitarist in Jimmy Dawkins’ blues band. He made a tour of Japan with Dawkins and Otis Rush, and played on two Dawkins albums in Chicago and on Rush’s live Japanese LP. In 1975, A French company, MCM, came to Chicago and recorded Jimmy’s first sides as a blues singer. Singing and playing the blues brought Jimmy new satisfaction. He found a new creative direction for his considerable instrumental skills and a deep, personal outlet for his marvelous vocal talent. Since 1975 Jimmy has worked with other blues artists while also leading his own band, appearing at The Checkerboard, The Majestic, Elsewhere, Kingston Mines, The Wise Fools, The Show & Tell, and other blues clubs, north, south and west. He has built a devoted following on the blues circuit, a following which is probably convinced that Jimmy’s been singing those beautiful, emotional blues and wrenching those bent blues notes from his guitar all his life. The Transformation of Jimmy Johnson has been a complete success.
Jimmy Johnson went on to record two more albums for Delmark Records, both critically acclaimed. His album for the French Blue Phoenix label, released in France under the title Heap See, was released in the U.S. and Canada on Alligator as Bar Room Preacher (AL4744). Jimmy continues to be a top-drawing artist in the Chicago blues clubs.
EDDIE SHAW AND THE WOLF GANG
Eddie Shaw has done just about everything in the blues business. He’s been a sideman, singer, bandleader, songwriter, arranger, producer and tavern owner. In most of those roles, he has worked on behalf of other artists. The whole West Side blues scene has benefitted from Eddie’s efforts, which included acting as bandleader and manager for the late Howlin’ Wolf from 1972 to 1975. But only in the past two years has he effectively begun to emerge from behind the scenes and reap public recognition as Eddie Shaw, blues artist. Before Wolf died in 1976 , he urged Eddie to carry on the blues with The Wolf Gang. Eddie has not only kept the band together, but has also forged a new identify for Eddie Shaw And The Wolf Gang.
Eddie’s career with Wolf began in 1958, but his varied activities brought him in contact with hundreds of other bluesmen, both in Chicago and in the South. Eddie was born March 20, 1937, in Benoit, Mississippi, and grew up in nearby Greenville, where his adolescent friends included a number of musicians who would one day become fellow Chicago bluesmen: Little Milton Campbell, Left Hand Frank, Johnny “Big Moose” Walker and L.V. Banks, among others. Eddie and his close companion Oliver Sain were just two of the many blues and jazz horn players to come from Coleman High School. They joined other formally trained musicians in Greenville’s sophisticated, urban jump-blues bands, which featured-four and five-man horn sections. Eddie and Oliver made the rounds of the local nightclubs, schools, and dances, and often traveled through the Delta to play with bands such as Ike Turner’s and Guitar Slim’s. Eddie, who played trombone and clarinet before switching to saxophone, also put in some time with more traditional local bluesmen like Sain’s stepfather, Willie Love, and guitarist Charles Booker. In 1957, Eddie sat in with the Muddy Waters band in Itta Bena, Mississippi. Muddy hired him on the spot, and Eddie arrived in Chicago as a member of the top band in town.
The Chicago bands of Muddy and Wolf were built around amplified country blues, and Eddie found that he had to play differently in Chicago than he did in Mississippi. He was usually the only horn player in the band and no longer had section arrangements or short, set parts to play. But Eddie adapted to the new demands as a soloist. A few months with Muddy, a few months with Wolf, back to Greenville for a short stay, and then Eddie settled in Chicago for good. He rejoined Wolf for about two years, moved on to the Otis Rush band, and during the ‘60s worked most often with Magic Sam on the West Side. In between, there were plenty of weekend gigs with any band that needed a sax man for a night or two--“in and out of bands, up and down the highway,” says Eddie.
Eddie sang and fronted his own band from time to time, using guitar players such as Magic Sam, Guitar Jr. (Luther Johnson), and Jesse Robinson. He played on recording sessions with Wolf, Sam, Freddie King, Jimmy Dawkins, and others, and occasionally took his band into the studio to record dubs for promotional use on jukeboxes and on Big Bill Hill’s local radio and TV programs. One such recording, and instrumental called “Blues For The West Side,” became a minor Chicago hit when it was issued by Colt Records. In 1977, Eddie and The Wolf Gang recorded an LP, Have Blues, Will Travel, released on the Simmons label and co-produced by Eddie and Howlin’ Wolf’s widow, Lillie Burnett.
In addition, Eddie has written songs for Wolf, Willie Dixon, Magic Sam, and Andrew “Blueblood” McMahon, and has contributed arrangements to sessions by Wolf, Muddy, and others.
In the midst of all this, Eddie has also usually been involved in some sort of independent business venture. An air conditioning and refrigeration service, a laundromat, a barbecue joint, and a tavern on West Madison Street, which was famed for its all-star Monday jam sessions. For the past three years, Eddie has operated the biggest blues club on the West Side, Eddie’s Place (The New 1815 Club), which ahs featured such top-notch blues acts as Wolf, Otis Rush, Jimmy Reed, Luther Allison, James Cotton, Mighty Joe Young and Little Johnny Taylor.
Today Eddie, the only Chicago horn player who consistently leads a blues band, divides his time between his clubs and his on-the-road appearances with The Wolf Gang. In Chicago the band works at Eddie’s and at two North Side clubs, Kingston Mines and Biddy Mulligan’s. Hubert Sumlin, whose fine, stinging guitar was featured on most of Howlin’ Wolf’s records, continues to work with Eddie, occasionally taking off for his own European tours. Drummer Chico Chism and bassist Lafayette “Shorty” Gilbert, who joined the Wolf Gang during Wolf’s final year, have also remained with the group. Big Moose Walker was a recent replacement for Detroit Jr. on piano--his first gig with The Wolf Gang, in fact, was the recording session for this album. Eddie has been blowing harmonica as well as alto and tenor sax, and his vocals have become richer and more expressive than ever before. It may be that Eddie Shaw’s most important chapter in the Chicago blues story is just beginning.
Since these recordings, the Rooster Blues label has re-released Eddie’s Have Blues, Will Travel album, and cut a second solo album with Eddie. He and The Wolf Gang (now featuring Eddie’s son Vann Shaw on lead guitar) are one of the busiest touring bands in the blues. Eddie has continued to operate blues bars on the West Side and remains an active part of the Chicago blues scene.
LEFT HAND FRANK AND HIS BLUES BAND
Left Hand Frank is a fun-loving, powerfully built bluesman who likes to amuse audiences with comical Donald Duck imitations and muscle-flexing tricks. But what crowds enjoy even more is the way Frank Craig plays guitar. Employing a confident, four-fingered picking style, he plays his axe upside down, the way several other left-handed blues guitarists do, with the treble strings at the top. And he plays some of the strongest, most distinctive vintage blues to be heard in Chicago.
Frank worked in countless bands during his nearly 30 years in Chicago. He was probably the best musician in most of those groups. But until 1978, Frank never played guitar or sang on a record. Frank, it seems, found that it was more fun to be a sideman, and he never thought too much about becoming a headliner or leading a band.
“Mainly, I don’t like to be worried with it,” Frank explains. “I’ve had quite a few jobs myself, but guys don’t want to act right. It’s too much of a headache. I’d switch over and put that headache on somebody else. I hate to have a headache.”
So Frank left bandleading headaches to bluesmen like Junior Wells, Little Walter, Hound Dog Taylor, and Willie Cobbs. Frank was happy just to play guitar or bass in their bands.
When Frank started playing in his hometown of Greenville, Mississippi, he didn’t even have to worry about bands. He could stroll the streets, playing by himself to earn tips from passersby. He got his first guitar on his fourth birthday, October 5, 1939, and quickly learned both blues and country & western from older musicians who were always at his house buying homebrewed corn whiskey from Frank’s mother. Before moving to Chicago at the age of 14, young Frank performed at the local sheriff’s parties, at the local fairgrounds, and around the countryside, carrying his guitar with him on the bus and playing wherever people would pay to see such a child prodigy.
During the early ‘50s in Chicago, Frank was still a street and house party musician, too young to be allowed in the taverns. But he lived within a block of two blues clubs, The Zanzibar and Vi’s Lounge. Frank and two teenaged friends, guitarist Eddie King and bassist Willie Frank Black, eagerly listened at the door whenever Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Memphis Slim, and Howlin’ Wolf were performing. After some intense rehearsals, the trio started playing outside and The Zanzibar and Vi’s, sharing wine and whiskey with the onlookers. “We’d have a bigger crowd outside than they did inside!” Frank laughs.
Willie Cobbs, originator of the blues standard “You Don’t Love Me,” hired the young bluesmen (who had boldly named themselves the Chicago All-Stars) to work with him on the West Side clubs and the road. Jimmy Rogers and Lee Jackson let Frank sit in on bass at The Squeeze Club, and in the mid-‘50s, Frank began a long association with his steadiest employer, guitarist James Scott, Jr., at Joe’s 1015 Club on 43rd Street. There were also gigs with Jimmy Dawkins at The Pink Poodle, with Delta bluesman Boyd Gilmore in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and with Good Rockin’ Charles at a West Side club where the crowds “barn danced” to Frank’s country breakdowns. In the ‘60s, Frank, who was working as a manual laborer during the daytime, played with Junior Wells, Junior Simpkins, Willie Williams, Carey Bell, Little Arthur Gray, Hound Dog Taylor, Little Walter and others, including Willie Cobbs and James Scott again at times. Frank recorded, as a bass player, on an Eddie King single in 1960 and on later sessions behind Morris Pejoe, Little Eddie Newell, and Willie Williams.
Frank has been just as active, and just as sought after by various bandleaders, in the ‘70s. He was a regular with Johnny Bernard’s group at Louise’s, Porter’s, and other South Side clubs, and continued to work on and off with James Scott. He’s still a familiar face at the famed Sunday afternoon jam sessions at Florence’s, where Hound Dog Taylor held forth for years. Recently Frank simultaneously served as guitarist for three different bands, working several nights a week with one group or another: the Jimmy Rogers-Walter Horton combo, Good Rockin’ Charles, and most often, the unit which appears with on this record, lead by two young white newcomers, Dimestore Fred and Pocketwatch Paul. Audiences at Kingston Mines, Elsewhere, Morgan’s Lounge, Florence’s and other clubs are hearing more of Left Hand Frank all the time.
For Frank, it’s still fun. He left the steel mill in 1974, and music is his sole occupation now. But Frank is proving that he can be more than a sideman, more than just an outstanding instrumentalist. He’s singing with enthusiasm, writing songs, and he finally has a record of his own. Left Hand Frank’s name is up front at last.
Left Hand Frank, after a stint with Hound Dog Taylor, left Chicago. He’s living in Los Angeles, and because of recurring health problems, is no longer actively playing blues.
CAREY BELL’S BLUES HARP BAND
Carey Bell has brought the art of Chicago blues harmonica into the 1970s. Carey was once just another student of Little Walter, the genius whose classic ‘50s sounds revolutionized blues harmonica playing. And Carey’s style today still owes much to Walter. But imitation and adulation haven’t trapped Carey Bell; he’s free and fresh in his playing, charging forward with his little Hohner instrument. His constant growth, both as an instrumentalist and singer, continues to be one of the joys of Chicago.
Carey’s infatuation with blues harp began as a teenager in Meridian, Mississippi, where he heard the early records of Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller). He knew enough harp then to play blues with his stepfather, pianist Lovie Lee, and country & western with a local white band. Carey, whose full is name is Carey Bell Harrington, was born November 14, 1936, in Macon, Mississippi, a town that also produced other blues-playing Harringtons, including Eddy “Clearwater” Harrington (a second cousin) and violinist Houston H. Harrington. Carey arrived in Chicago in 1955 with the Lovie Lee band. Work, musical or otherwise, wasn’t easy to find at first. Carey finally got a job at a car wash, staying in Chicago with Lovie, and gave the rest of the band enough money to take the bus back to Mississippi. Lovie formed a new band, keeping Carey on harmonica, and found gigs in the South and West Side taverns. Carey was also learning guitar from Honeyboy Edwards, and through Honeyboy he met the two men who most shaped his harp playing, Little Walter and Big Walter Horton. He took lessons form both, but became an excellent bass player as well, and bass turned out to be his main instrument through the late ‘50s and ‘60s. Picking up slide guitar from Honeyboy and Hound Dog Taylor, Carey had his own band for a while. But usually he played bass for artists such as Honeyboy, Big Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Johnny Young, Eddie Taylor, Willie Williams and Earl Hooker.
He still played harmonica on occasion, and during his stint with Hooker in 1968, Carey’s harp blowing started to make news. He recorded that year for the first time, singing and playing harp on Earl’s first Arhoolie LP. Carey’s own debut album, Carey Bell’s Blues Harp, on Delmark followed. Within an 18 month period in 1968-70, Carey toured Europe five times, in between jobs on the West Side with Eddie Taylor and others, and appearances at blues festivals in the U.S. He toured for a year with Muddy Waters, went on the road once with Howlin’ Wolf, worked with Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All Stars for three years, and is now a prominent fixture in the Bob Riedy Blues Band. When record producers needed blues harp for a session, they began to call on Carey. He has recorded with Muddy, Dixon, Riedy, Jimmy Rogers, Buster Benton, Willie Williams, Sleepy John Estes, Big Walter, Eddie C. Campbell, and others--even the Staple Singers. Carey had a 1973 album on BluesWay, made albums for Delmark and T.K. (which remain unissued), and took an occasional vocal on LPs by the Riedy and Dixon bands. Yet the local blues taverns never lost Carey to the better-paying studio dates and road gigs, because Carey just loves to play, and when he’s not busy elsewhere, he may pop in to play with Eddie Taylor, Willie Williams, Buster Benton, Eddie C. Campbell, or other friends.
Carey has received more exposure and acclaim than most of the artists in the Living Chicago Blues series. But this status within the blues field hasn’t thrust him into the big time, or even to top billings on blues gigs. It’s been five years since he was featured in anything more than a guest spot or accompanying role on a record. Carey has more to say, to sing and to play.
Carey Bell has continued as one of the blues’ most visible harp players. He has recorded extensively as both a leader and sideman, including the album Son Of A Gun on Rooster Blues cut with his son, guitarist Lurrie Bell, and an album on the Blind Pig label with the band Tough Luck. Carey joined James Cotton, Junior Wells and Billy Branch on Alligator’s Harp Attack! album (AL4790).