Friday, January 22, 2016

Delmark Deluxe

One of my favorite labels, dating back to when I first discovered the blues, is Delmark Records.  FBF devoted an entire post to the label about two years ago.  Over it's 60+ year history, Delmark has released several essential blues albums (jazz, too) that should be required listening for any discriminating blues fan (we listed ten essentials on our previous post, but there are many, many more to choose from).  Not only is their catalog impressive, but Delmark continues to release top notch music from the next generation of artists on the scene like Toronzo Cannon, Omar Coleman, Mike Wheeler, Sharon Lewis, Lurrie Bell, and many others.

Several years ago, Delmark began releasing "Deluxe Editions" of some of their classic recordings, releasing the original album with remastered sound, adding multiple alternate tracks (some previously unreleased), expanded liner notes (along with the originals), studio banter, and previously unseen photographs from the sessions.  A pair of Junior Wells classics (Hoodoo Man Blues and Southside Blues Jam) have received the Deluxe treatment in years past with satisfying results, and Delmark added to the list this year with another pair of classics.......J.B. Hutto's Hawk Squat and Magic Sam's Black Magic.  Even if you have the original releases, you are strongly encouraged to check out these expanded versions.

J.B. Hutto was a disciple of slide guitar legend Elmore James and played with the same manic intensity and energy as his musical ancestor, sometimes maybe even exceeding James in his performances.  As a live performer, his shows were legendary with his flamboyant suits and hats and playing in the middle of his audience, his distinctive vocals and his blistering slide guitar.  After launching a recording and performing career in the 50's, Hutto left the business for about ten years before returning with a vengeance in the mid 60's and tearing it up on stage and in the studio for the next decade and a half before succumbing to cancer in 1983 at age 57.

Hutto's first foray in the studio after his comeback was as part of the Chicago!  The Blues!  Today! series on Vanguard Records, but he quickly moved to Delmark, where he released Hawk Squat in 1968.  Recognized as one of the finest examples of 60's-era Chicago blues, Hawk Squat was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame as a Classic of Blues Recordings, and deservedly so.

Hutto was joined by the Windy City blues icon Sunnyland Slim on piano and his bandwhich included Lee Jackson on guitar, three bass players (Dave Myers, Herman Hassell and future Teardrop Junior Pettis), drummer Frank Kirkland, and tenor sax man Maurice McIntyre, who was working at Delmark head man Bob Koester's Jazz Record Mart at the time.

The original 12 tracks that made up Hawk Squat sound as great as previously.  One of the best things about the original release was it's "live in the studio" feel.  One of the other great things is Hutto's guitar playing on tracks like "Hip Shakin'," "Speak My Mind," "20% Alcohol," and the title track which brings the original album to a spirited conclusion.

The Deluxe Edition includes six previously unreleased tunes, among them five strong alternate takes of tracks that made the album the first time around.  The last track is an unissued song called "I Cry Tomorrow," and it's a least as close as Hutto ever got to singing a ballad.

The previously unreleased tunes add about twenty minutes of good music to an already great album and, with the remastered sound, make Hawk Squat worth hearing again for fans of slide guitar who probably already have the original in their collection.

Hutto's been gone for over 30 years, but if you're a blues fan, you're probably familiar with his nephew, Lil' Ed Williams of Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials.  Williams not only plays like his uncle, but he has the same stylish fashion sense and ready smile, so J.B. Hutto's musical legacy definitely lives on.

In 1969, Magic Sam was on his way.  His appearance at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival earned him a spot at many festivals in the U.S. and Europe.  Black Magic had just been released to rave reviews, and he and his management had talked Delmark into agreeing to speed up the recording of his third, and final, album for the label, thereby allowing him to sign with Stax Records.  Just a few days later, on December 1st, he was dead from a heart attack at age 32.  Years of hard living, relentless touring, and just plain bad luck had taken a toll on his health and he refused to slow down.

Black Magic was a worthy follow-up to West Side Soul, Sam's debut for Delmark, considered by many to be one of the finest Chicago blues albums ever recorded.  Truthfully, to these ears, Black Magic is every bit as formidable an album as its predecessor.  Sam brought back a couple of the musicians from West Side Soul - guitarist Mighty Joe Young and drummer Odie Payne, Jr.  He added bass player Mack Thompson (brother of Syl and Jimmy Johnson), the criminally underrated piano player Lafayette Leake, and tenor saxophonist Eddie Shaw, longtime member of Howlin' Wolf's band.

The original album features some of Sam's finest work.  The raucous opener, Rosco Gordon's "I Just Want A Little Bit" includes some great sax from Shaw and guitar solos from Sam and Young.  Sam also remakes his Cobra hit "Easy Baby."  Other standouts include "What Have I Done Wrong," "You Belong To Me," and the B.B. King-esque "I Have The Same Old Blues."  There's also a smoking cover of Freddy King's "San-Ho-Zay," and the old Otis Rush tune, "Keep Loving Me Baby," and Willie Cobbs' "You Don't Love Me."

The Deluxe Edition includes eight alternate tracks.  Six of them are alternate versions of the album's original tracks, and have been previously available on Delmark's 1989 collection, The Magic Sam Legacy.  The other two tracks have never been released, and are also alternate tracks.  One of the things that I've enjoyed about these alternate tracks on all of the Deluxe Editions is that they are nearly as good, or as good, as the tracks that made the final cut.  I can't imagine how difficult it was to pick which cuts to use, and how much fun it was to listen to all of them.

The accompanying booklet includes additional liner notes and previously unseen photos from the session, plus a never-before-seen color photo of Sam at Ann Arbor.

Nowadays the mix of 50's urban-styled blues and 60's-era soul seems a bit old hat, but that's because most everybody really started doing it after Magic Sam built the prototype.  Soul music had really taken off in the 60's and blues artists really merged it into their music as a way to keep things fresh and vital and maintain their fan base.  No question Sam was one of the first to do this and one of the best, even now, thanks to his perfect combination of guitar skills to burn and an incredibly soulful voice.  Black Magic shows just how good he was, and we're left to wonder how good he would have been

If you're a blues fan at all, especially a fan of these artists, any of Delmark's Deluxe Editions are essential listening, like most of the label's remaining catalog of blues recordings.

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