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1st Edition 302 pages
2nd Edition 304 pages
3rd Edition 307 pages
13.8cm x 21.6cm
Photographs, maps
ISBN 1-904221-00-9
Price £11.99 + P&P

Essential reading for Brian Jones and Rolling Stones fans, and for those interested in the Blues, the Sixties or Cheltenham's local history.

    In the stuttering beginning was 'The Blues'… a compilation disc with some instant gems and some that grew on you. But Brian dismissed Side One with a bored and cursory toss of the head. "We'll come back to it when he has seen the light" I thought. Brian sat cross-legged on the floor waiting expectantly to see what I had next.
        So then in the real beginning there was Champion Jack Dupree with 'Blues From The Gutter' on Atlantic LTZ-K- 15171. This starts off with 'Strollin' with some great Champion Jack piano and words that are different, humorous, worldly-wise words that you just had to chuckle over. Brian chuckled too as Jack poked some gentle fun at the hoodoo mythology. We're making progress I thought. Champion Jack has lost his girl, see, and he is trying everything to get her back…. he gets some goofer dust to help bring his girl back but then he says "I'm gonna see the Seven Sisters… or the Eight Brothers or somebody" sacrilegiously breaking the uniqueness of the Seven Sisters and the spells they can weave. Then Jack declaims that he can pay for this, there is no problem on that score, he sings "I'll pay….Any time you see me I'm always loaded….I always have thirty-five, forty or fifty cents in my pocket"…. Big deal! Even in the late fifties when this was recorded 50 cents was some big fortune: I don't think! Anyway then we get to this gentle guitar solo and Brian starts smiling and mumbling "not bad, not bad." I'm thinking "good, good, good, I have a convert here" because I know what else there is to come on this record and 'Strollin' is just the gentlest of starts.
        Now Jack moves on into 'T.B.Blues' and the anguish in his delivery gets the loneliness and hopelessness message across, there is no escape and death is just a matter of time. No humour in this one. The guitar intro has a Lowery taste of things to come and Brian is all ears. All of a sudden in cuts this guitar solo with such dynamics that you just have to sit up and take note. Brian sat up and took note! Great solo from Ennis Lowery (who later used the stage name, Larry Dale). Later on we reckoned he must have hawsers for strings to get that tone out of his electric guitar. As well as Ennis's solo there is some excellent counterpoint between him and alto saxophonist, Pete Brown, backing the vocal.

    Track three is 'Can't Kick the Habit'. Now Champion Jack is nothing if not a purveyor of the various blues genre, we're only on track three and we've had unrequited love, unremediable sickness and now we have unavoidable drugs. A second great Lowery solo has Brian smiling and animated now but he doesn't leave his cross-legged position on the floor. Jack sings "…this junk is killing me." Also important on this track is the fact that Lowery plays a mix of gentle chords as well as his fiery solo. This role of rhythm guitarist was something that later enabled Brian to see that the typical jazz dual role of soloist and group member was easily attainable in urban blues as well. Champion Jack continues "….it don't pay nobody to live their life so fast." This track could almost have been about Brian in the coming years.
        After the lost babe, lost life, and lost reason Champion Jack gives us a surfeit of sex with 'Evil Woman'. This is not your typical 'evil-hearted woman', who is a familiar blues, character but the original 'I can't get no satisfaction' evil woman. This gal is too much for Jack she "takes away his appetite" and he ends up by singing "the way you been lovin' me baby I swear you're killing me." What a way to go! We learned the rapid downward glissando 15 from Ennis Lowery's background intro on this track. There's a great Pete Brown solo in the middle, then sax and guitar swap chases 16 and Lowery does another cutting solo before they settle down to weave behind Jack for the final chorus.
        So Side One starts off with some whimsical Dupree humour and ends up with a whimsical-worded boogie-woogie romp that leaves you realizing from which style raw Bill Haley style rock and roll originated. Pete Brown has another burst and then Wendell Marshall on bass (string, not bass guitar) has a spot and Lowery exhibits some more of his rhythm playing.
        "Who's the guitarist?" asked Brian.
        "Ennis Lowery," I said.
        "Never heard of him… but he's great."

    "Yeah, but also it's Pete Brown on sax, he played with Coleman Hawkins... and Benny Carter. He's been going for decades, played with the John Kirby band and Freddie Newton in the thirties, in the Jump Bands, he even played with Joe Turner with Freddy Green on guitar."
        "I remember Pete Brown, yeah, Freddy Green you say."
        As Brian had 'The Atomic Mr Basie' LP I already knew he was a Freddy Green fan, "Good move" I thought. I carried on…
        "Wendell Marshall's on bass, he's been with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Duke Ellington of course."
        "Yeah, I know Wendell Marshall," Brian responded.
        "And then Willie Jones is on drums, he played with Thelonius Monk and even Mingus. These are a solid bunch; you can't dismiss them like you did the last LP."
        "Let's read the sleeve notes."
        I got up from the armchair that I was occupying by the window, took the record cover over to Brian, then turned Champion Jack over and set Side Two on the go. It was clear to me from early on that Brian was a bit of a jazz snob. If a player's credentials were not immediately traceable back to a solid jazz status then it was hard for him to entirely accept the musicianship. These three sidemen that Champion Jack had on his record sealed his and Ennis Lowery's credentials, they were okay with Brian now… as I was, the owner of the record. He could be musically shallow at times.
        Side Two starts with 'Junker's Blues' another of Jack's observations from the drug-infested waters of his gutter. Champion Jack Dupree was born in New Orleans and went to Detroit where he played piano and did some professional boxing which is how he acquired the 'Champion' soubriquet. Champion Jack it seems was a great observer of events and the human condition whether he was directly involved or not. He wasn't judgmental of those he sang about or the circumstances being portrayed. This had the effect of making his observations seem all the more accurate. But despite this lack of bias he makes sure with small contributions that the listener does not get the impression that he entirely condones the idea of drug-taking. 'Junker's Blues' starts off with an almost sotto voce warning as Jack speaks "My oh my…. I'm sick as I can be" before he launches into the blues proper. 'Junker's Blues' appears to extol the virtues of reefers (at least over whisky and gin) until the very last line when Jack sings " 'Cos I'm loaded all the time…. But that ain't nothin' 'bout feel good all the time." In the middle Lowery steps up with a more subdued solo than his previous ones and Pete Brown follows suit. The whole sound has an air of almost quiet resignation about it.

    The next track is 'Bad Blood' and it is a vehicle for a really superb solo from Ennis Lowery. He really digs in on this one and with several sharp downward glisses in there he has Brian really hooked now. He's animated and beating time and dynamics with Lowery as he drives on with his solo. This blues is about a woman on drugs, ("You got bad blood momma…. bumps all in your veins") and the guy singing it is a pusher. It is a really dark piece as it illustrates the dominant position of the pusher and even has some sexual dominance innuendo added for good measure But never mind, it is the sound and flow of Lowery's guitar that makes this one memorable to us. He really did match up to the sharpness of the lyrics and subject.
        For good measure Champion Jack now gives us 'Goin' Down Slow'. This is a slow blues about a guy who wants his mother to know that he's "goin' down slow" and would like to be forgiven and not forgotten for all his sins before or after he dies. What's he dying of? "My habit's killing me" Jack sings…. No surprises there then. He may be going down slow but he's also going down early and his Momma is going to outlive him. It has an even greater air of resignation about it than 'Junker's Blues' and this time Ennis Lowery gives us a measure of his skill with some delicate playing and equally delicate rhythm work.
        'Frankie and Johnny' is on next and although this is part of the staple blues diet Dupree's version of this star-crossed lovers' tale has some modified lyrics. It gives Brian chance for a breathing space and he starts settling down again.
        Finally 'Stack-o-Lee' comes on and is another staple offering but with even more modification and twist to the familiar story of Stag-a-Lee or Stack-o-Lee. Pete Brown is in his element on this one and Brian says "Listen to him go!" when his solo is in full flight. Time to draw breath really but Brian says "That's really great stuff!" and puts Side One on again.
        Second time round Brian is even more enthusiastic.
        "I just have to play this stuff." "See how the rhythm section of just bass and drums is so solid, just like Basie… almost unnoticeable even," I said, but it straight away felt too analytical.
        "Yeah! I have to play this… what a sound," he concluded.
        When Side Two is over and more coffees fill the mugs I put Side Two of 'The Blues', a Vee Jay recording brought out by EMI on 33SX1417, onto the turntable of the beat up Dansette record-player.
        "There's three tracks I want to play you on this side," I said, not this first one but the one after."
        Billy 'Boy' Arnold's 'I wish you Would' came blasting out but was not of interest at the moment. I couldn't wait for the track to finish but I didn't want to take any risks with trying to skip any tracks on the old player with its auto arm but no lift up arm.
        "Listen to this. Wait for the guitar. It's amazing, you're gonna love this one," I said, as Memphis Slim's 'Messin' Around' started playing. It has a really strong and tight band playing and is one of my favourite tracks of all time. A couple of verses through and I know what's coming.
        "Just listen to this guitar solo, listen…." and this amazing guitar comes in and knocks Brian's head out of shape. We don't hear the rest of the track, Brian is too excited and wants to know who the guitarist is.
        "I haven't a clue," I said. "It's a compilation disc and it doesn't give any personnel and the sleeve notes only rabbit on about the blues in general. I haven't seen any write-ups on the record so I don't know, but whoever he is, he is just amazing."

    Not only did we miss the end of 'Messin' Around' but we entirely missed J B Lenoir's 'Do What I Say' which I also wanted Brian to hear, as it was another example of the type of track which had turned me on to Urban Blues during my continual search for new jazz-related musical forms. I then had to be patient while Harold Burrage's production blues 'Cryin' for my Baby' ran through…. Brian turned his nose up but the sax on it was okay by me. As it got to the end I alerted Brian again.
        "Listen to the guitar on this next one, you are going to wonder what hit you."
        "I already have wondered."
        There's no gentle intro, no few vocal choruses before you get a fine solo, no lull before the storm, 'Coming Home' just whacks straight in with Elmore James's slide guitar telling you just exactly why the expression "whipping up a storm" was originated.
        "Jesus H Christ!" exclaimed Brian.
        "John Steinbeck." 17
        Another point of contact had been made, we read some of the same stuff. Elmore James faded away, if that is ever possible, and Jimmy Witherspoon's 'Kansas City' got lost somewhere under the animated conversation but never mind, it was never a great favourite. Elmore James's electric bottleneck playing really had Brian hooked.
        "It's a bit different to Furry Lewis and Kokomo Arnold isn't it?" I said grinning and chuckling.
        "You aren't kidding. I just have to play this. I got to get a 'steel' from somewhere."
        I put Side One of the Vee Jay compilation 'The Blues' back onto the record player and set it going. Priscilla Bowman started belting out 'Hands off him'. To my mind this was just entertaining big band style blues and not the stuff I was really interested in. Priscilla certainly had a powerful voice though.

    "I wish this disc had some information about who's playing," I said, "I think this might be the Jay McShann Band."
        "Who cares, I don't dig it anyway," said Brian.
        After Ms. Bowman left the stage Jimmy Reed slurred his way on with 'You don't have to go'. We like the overall sound of this and Jimmy Reed's blues harp is very definite and something to enjoy.
        Next up is another bigger band blues with Roscoe Gordon and 'Just a Little Bit'. I wondered who the sax player was but never did find out. His playing was going to influence me a lot in my early sax playing days but I didn't know that at the time. This track is another one dismissed by Brian like the Bowman one.
        'Dimples' by John Lee Hooker is an altogether different thing and Brian starts pounding out the rhythm on his knees. It is a very formulaic eight bar blues but nevertheless it rocks along and is very tight knit and professional. The subdued guitar solo is interesting and I can see Brian's cogs whirring away as his brain absorbs this contrast to the searing solo on the Memphis Slim track on the other side.
        Gene Allison's 'You Can Make it if You Try' with its gospelly feel goes down like the proverbial lead balloon with both of us. [This track never grew on us and we hated it… at least I thought we did until a cover version turned up on the Rolling Stones' 'England's Newest Hit Makers'. And I have to say that in my very personal view it is the worst cover version of the worst blues track I have ever heard. Sorry Stones and sorry Gene, I like the sentiment but hate the sound.]
        Jimmy Reed is back again for the last track with 'Ain't that Lovin' You Baby' turning in another impeccable performance. It's easy to listen to and easy to swing along to so hands are uncontrollably pounding out rhythms again.
        Brian said "It's a very unbalanced record… I mean Side One is much weaker than Side Two. I only really like those, who is it, Jimmy Reed?" I nodded, "...And the 'Dimples' one."
        "I agree and you haven't heard one of the tracks on Side Two yet 'cos you were yacking away when it was on as it's straight after that Memphis Slim track. I'm going to put that track on again." I cross the room and crouch on the floor in front of the Dansette and turn the record carefully over. I set the record going without the auto arm and carefully set the head on at the end of track two, 'Messin' Around'.
        "Listen to this."
        'Messin' Around' finishes off with that great woomfy bass sound.
        "Listen!" The piano chords set 'Do What I Say' going and then J B Lenoir's distinctive voice which sounds a little like he might have part of a kazoo stuck in his throat comes leaping in with "There ain't nothin' cookin' but the peas in the pot…" It rocks along almost frenetically but the percussive piano and the drummer are entirely in control. The guitar rapidly scuds about with Lenoir's vocal on top of the rhythmic landscape and the whole sound is raw but tight and precise. [At that point in time we hadn't heard Ray Charles 'What'd I Say', comparative discussion on that and this J B Lenoir track will come later.]
        "Yeah, that's great, put it on again Gray."
        I turn onto my knees and stop the record player and repeat the track. At the end of it I leave it on and 'Cryin' for My Baby' moans out again.
        "Put something else on."
        "No. Elmore James is the next track."
        Elmore James knocks Brian's socks off again and Brian repeats himself… "I have to get a 'steel' from somewhere." I stop the record so that the spell is not broken.


    15 Sliding up or down a series of musical notes. back

    16 When two or more musicians (particularly jazz musicians) take turns to play short solo segments which feed off the ideas of the segment before them. back

    17 In John Steinbeck's great novel 'The Grapes of Wrath' there is reference to an amateur poet as follows... 'This guy had words in it that Jesus H. Christ wouldn't know what they meant.' 'Jesus H Christ' (with the middle initial) was not terminology or an expletive in common use in England. Obviously Brian and I had had English Literature teachers with an equal capacity for explanation; the phrase amused both of us to think that the aitch in 'IHC' or 'IHS' could be mistaken for a middle initial. Apparently the expression's usage in the USA goes back to times earlier than Mark Twain. back

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Last Updated 18 September 2013
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