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
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
"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
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
'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
"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.
Sliding up or down a series of musical notes. back
When two or more musicians (particularly jazz musicians) take turns to
play short solo segments which feed off the ideas of the segment before
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