Friday, September 30, 2011

Mount Bluesmore

So, what blues artists would make up your Mount Rushmore of the Blues.....your Mount Bluesmore, if you will?  I imagine there are as many combinations as there are stars in the sky.  You can approach it any number of ways if you like, and I guess I have.  You could have a Chess Records Mount Bluesmore, a Blues Pioneers Mount Bluesmore, a Blues Guitarists Mount Bluesmore, a Blues Harp Mount Bluesmore.....the possibilities are limitless.

The presidential faces on the real Mount Rushmore were chosen because they all played important roles in American history.  Our first Mount Bluesmore will use the same approach.......four faces that played an important role in the development of the blues as it is today.  While you read about who I picked and why, take the time to figure out who your four faces would be on this particular version of Mount Bluesmore and why.  In the future, we will look at other versions of the monument, if you'd like.  It could end up being a fun topic with lots of discussion.

1)  Muddy Waters - I've stated several times that Waters is a definite member of Mount Bluesmore.  Simply put, without Muddy Waters, blues as we know it today would not exist.  Sure, the blues would still be there in one form or another, but for many listeners (past and present) Waters was the missing link between the blues of Delta and the blues of the City.  His raw and ragged sound helped pave the way for modern Chicago Blues.  There were others who played a role, but with his prominence as the "Main Man" at Chess Records, one of THE blues labels of the 50's, it's hard to ignore his influence then or now, both with listeners and with fellow musicians.  His band was a veritable farm team for future blues stars for over thirty years.  There's no doubt that Muddy Waters belongs on this Mount Bluesmore.

2)  Robert Johnson - Without Robert Johnson, you don't have the incredible blues resurgence of the 1960's.  Johnson is simply the most celebrated and revered blues artists ever.  His body of work is relatively small, but is, pound-for-pound (or song-for-song) the most potent group of blues songs ever assembled with phenomenal guitar work, hellhound-on-his-trail desperate vocals, and lyrics loaded with imagery and emotion, all of which have simply blown the minds of young artists like Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed,  Lonnie Pitchford, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and scores of others...... bluesmen and rockers..... for decades.  That, and the fact that a box set of his recordings, released over fifty years after his death, would sold over a million copies (the first ever blues recording to do so) serves as reason enough to include Johnson on my Mount Bluesmore.

3)  T-Bone Walker - Electric blues guitarists everywhere owe an insurmountable debt to T-Bone Walker.  He revolutionized the instrument in the early 40's, singlehandedly transforming it into a lead instrument.  His guitar playing had an elegance never before heard, and everyone wanted to play like him.  Though he was a wonderful vocalist with a smooth, easy style, his guitar was what everyone wanted to hear and for close to twenty years, he enjoyed an impressive run, making essential recordings for Black & White, Imperial, and Atlantic.  Over seventy years, Walker's style has influenced just about every blues guitarists in the world, and will continue to do so for years to come.  This earns him a spot on my Mount Bluesmore.

4)  B. B. King - Even music lovers who don't listen to the blues (are there such people?) know who B. B. King is.  He's one of the few blues musicians who was able to cross over and have success on the pop charts.  He's one of the first blues musicians to appear on regular mainstream TV variety shows, like the late night talkies and even American Bandstand.  He's appeared on TV series and movies over the years, and he still packs them in over 200 nights a year at the age of 86.  There's a reason for all of that.......King's guitar style, influenced himself by T-Bone Walker, has in turn influenced nearly every blues stringer (and quite a few rockers) plugging away out there today.  His vocals are every bit of a match for his guitar, and he's still a master showman after all these years.  He's the Face of the Blues today, so he HAS to be on Mount Bluesmore.

There you have Significant Figures of the Blues Mount Rushmore.  Now, of course, your versions could vary quite a bit from mine, and that's part of what makes the blues so special.  No two people come to the Blues from the same direction, but once here, we almost all end up headed in the same direction, listening to many of the same artists. 

Friday Blues Fix would love to hear who your residents of Mount Bluesmore would be.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Match Made In Heaven

Memphis Slim (a.k.a. John "Peter" Chatman) is recognized as one of the greatest blues piano players of all time, and deservedly so with a career that spanned six decades and produced classic songs like "Mother Earth," "Lend Me Your Love," "Rockin' The House," "Nobody Loves Me" (later recreated by numerous artists, like B.B. King, under the title, "Every Day I Have The Blues"), "Memphis Slim U.S.A.," and "The Come Back." 

Slim wisely sought out his own performing style at an early age, bringing an air of sophistication to his playing, more of an urban sound.  His warm, mannered vocals were also unique at the time, and soon most piano players were doing their best to emulate his sound.  Though he did record as a solo artist for Okeh in the late 30's, Slim also served as accompanist for guitarist Big Bill Broonzy for most of the early 40's, before striking out on his own for good in the middle of the decade and forming his own band, the House Rockers.
Slim moved around quite a bit from record label to record label through the 40's and early 50's, before settling with United Records in 1952.  With United, the piano man decided to try something different.  Prior to his tenure with United, he had only used guitar on two sessions, and had never had a guitar in his working band, even though he had played with Robert Johnson during his early years and with Broonzy.  However, Slim was savvy enough to realize that the guitar's role in the blues was changing, thanks to the slick urban blues coming from artists like T-Bone Walker and Johnny Moore, and when he caught wind of a young guitarist based in his native Memphis, he decided to expand his sound, and the result was some of the best blues ever for over ten years.
Mississippi native Matt "Guitar" Murphy was only in his early 20's, but already he had served as guitarist on multiple recordings by Bobby "Blue" Bland and Junior Parker, and had also played in Parker's band and with Howlin' Wolf during the late 40's.  He mixed jazz influences with raw amplification and set the Bluff City on its ear.  Though he enjoyed local guitarists like Calvin Newborn and Robert Lockwood, Jr., he was more influenced by the likes of Walker and Moore on guitar, and by sax players like Sonny Stitt, Charlie Parker, Arnett Cobb, and Gene Ammons.  Indeed, Murphy claims that he got most of his riffs from horn players.  Wherever it came from, his playing was years ahead of its time.  It was sophisticated and rough at the same time and he was one of the most adventurous, creative, and influential players of that era.  Slim had heard of Murphy's formidable skills from friends in Chicago, and made the journey down south to see what all the fuss was about.

Referring to guitarists, Slim once famously said to blues historian Jim O'Neal, "There was two things I couldn't stand in those days.  I couldn't stand no damn guitar and harmonica.  But Murphy was such a damn genius, man, 'til I had to use him.  And after that, I damn near had to have a guitar."  Perhaps what caught Slim's ear with Murphy's guitar playing was the fact that he was more influenced by horn players and his jazz leanings, which actually would have been a better fit to Slim's urban style than what many other Delta-based blues guitarists like Broonzy were playing.  When Murphy came on board for the United sessions, he also helped with arranging songs.  The four United sessions included 30 songs, of which about a quarter were instrumentals.  These sessions are unquestionably some of the finest sides that Memphis Slim ever committed to wax, and were later packaged into two albums by Delmark Records, Memphis Slim U.S.A. and The Come Back.  Here's a nice pair of tracks featuring Slim ("Memphis Slim U.S.A." and "The Come Back") and a typically amazing instrumental featuring Murphy ("Back Bone Boogie").

In the late 50's, Memphis Slim ended up at Vee-Jay Records, where, in a two-year span, he released what many blues fans consider to be his greatest recordings.  He re-recorded most of his great songs during this span, but these recordings are the definitive versions, thanks in no small part to the presence of Matt Murphy.  These sides have been collected and re-collected over the years, with the best version being the Charly release, Rockin' The Blues.  Below, you will hear "Messin' Around With The Blues," the instrumental "Steppin' Out" (later covered by Eric Clapton during his tenure with Cream), "Rockin' The House," and Slim's legendary "Mother Earth."

In the early 60's, after appearing at the first of several American Folk Blues Festivals, Slim decided to make the move to Europe, where he was able to take advantage of greater recording opportunities, more chances to tour, and more adulation and acclaim than he would have ever received in America.  Before he made the move, however, he recorded one last session with Murphy before heading overseas, later issued as I'll Just Keep On Singin' The Blues.  This is a hidden gem in the Memphis Slim/Matt Murphy catalog with songs like the rocking opener, "Lonesome," and "Cold Blooded Woman."

After Slim's departure, Murphy ended up playing in James Cotton's band in the early 70's, shining on Cotton's recordings for Buddha Records.  He did appear at the 1963 version of the American Folk Blues Festival with Slim and Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Big Joe Williams, and Lonnie Johnson.  Among the highlights that years was Murphy's blistering version of "Matt's Guitar Boogie."  Prepare to be dazzled by this version, with backing from Memphis Slim on piano, Willie Dixon on bass, and Billy Stepney on drums.

Now check out Murphy returning the favor, backing Slim on "I'm Lost Without You," also recorded in Europe during the 1963 tour.  To be honest, while both artists did have their moments before and after their partnership, they never sounded better than when playing together. 

Nearly everyone who listens to the blues knows what happened to Matt "Guitar" Murphy after his stint with James Cotton......he was recruited into the Blues Brothers Band (say what you will about Jake and Elwood, but the boys had good taste), serving as guitarist with Steve Cropper and increasing his exposure level a thousandfold.  Murphy even ended up with a speaking part in the inevitable Blues Brothers movie in 1980, playing himself alongside Aretha Franklin (as his aggravated wife) and taking part in the accompanying musical number.  He also appeared in the sequel some twenty years later.

Memphis Slim continued to record and perform in France and other European countries.  He appeared on French television, acted in several movies, and enjoyed life as a genuine celebrity.  He did return to the States occasionally to perform, even pairing up with old friend Murphy in 1985 for a live recording released by Antones in the late 80's.  It was like the two of them had never been apart.  Slim passed away in 1988, at age 72, of renal failure.  He was active up until the last six months or so of his life. 

Matt "Guitar" Murphy continued to perform, eventually recording a wonderful disc for Antones, called Way Down South, and two later discs for New England-based Roesch Records.  Murphy suffered a stroke in 2003, during a gig in Florida (which he managed to finish playing one-handed).  After a long, frustrating, but determined rehabilitation, Murphy made a triumphant return to performing with James Cotton during the 2010 Chicago Blues Festival.

Although both Memphis Slim and Matt "Guitar" Murphy earned many accolades throughout their careers, most blues fans realize that their best work may have taken place when they shared the stage or studio.  Each one was a perfect complement to the other, truly a match made in Heaven.

There are four or five essential recordings featuring Memphis Slim with Matt "Guitar" Murphy.  You can't go wrong with any or all of them.

Memphis Slim U.S.A. and The Come Back (Delmark Records):  These two discs capture the highlights of Slim's four sessions for United, his first recordings with Murphy.  There are some wonderful unreleased tracks on here as well that make you wonder how in the world they never saw the light of day until several decades later.

Rockin' the Blues (Charly Records):  This disc is the best representation of Slim and Murphy's recordings for Vee-Jay.  Slim reprised some of his best songs throughout his early years for Vee-Jay, and these are actually considered the definitive recordings of some of those songs.  This disc is out of print, unfortunately, but is pretty easily found online.

I'll Just Keep On Singin' The Blues (32 Jazz):  This is a later session of the pair, just before Slim departed for Europe in 1961.  Both men sound great here and this is a great, unheralded set that should be more widely heard.

Together Again One More Time (Antones):  What's amazing about this live release is that if you weren't familiar with either artist, you would have thought that they had been playing together for years instead of being separated for over twenty years.  This is a really nice send-off for this incomparable pair, and is part of a special two-fer set.....the other half of the disc is a really nice Eddie Taylor set from the same time period.

If you would like to hear more of the amazing Matt "Guitar" Murphy, I highly recommend Way Down South (Antones).  Murphy leads a fine band (including his brother, Floyd, a legendary guitarist in his own right) through a great mix of original tunes and instrumentals.  This is one of my favorite discs ever and will probably rank near the top for you, too.

Friday, September 16, 2011

YouTube Blues #2 - Scenes from the American Folk Blues Festival

Unfortunately, things have been busy lately, so I have had little spare time to put things together.  Actually, I have two or three posts that I've started, but haven't completed yet that we will see down the road.  This week, however, we will just sit back and check out some of the many blues videos that YouTube has to offer.  I have to say that YouTube is a wonderful thing and has given us access to many songs and videos that we might otherwise have never seen.  I really enjoy just roaming around seeing what I can find.  Of course, I'm sure that someone will finally realize what a great concept YouTube is, and then proceed to screw it up for everyone who enjoys it.  Before they do, let's take a look at some choice blues videos.

All of these videos come from the series of DVDs capturing the highlights of the American Folk Blues Festival, an annual concert series in Germany that ran throughout the 60's.  Times were tough for bluesmen in the U.S. during this time, so these concerts opened up the musicians to a whole new fanbase that really appreciated what they were doing.  Some of the bluesmen liked it so much that they ended up staying in Europe for many years.  If you are not familiar with these DVDs, the clips we're showing here should give you enough of a taste to check out the series for yourselves.  Just about everybody who was anybody in the blues made an appearance at this festival at one time or another.  You will have the opportunity to see many blues legends in action like you've never seen them before.  

Saying Little Walter Jacobs was an innovator is sort of like saying the Titanic was a big boat.  He revolutionized the harmonica by using the recently discovered science of amplification to expand the possibilities of the instrument far beyond what was previously done, making it more of a solo instrument than the usual accompanying instrument that it had been.  Though he started out playing in Muddy Waters' band, his own fame and success soon eclipsed that of his former boss as he enjoyed a string of R&B hits in the 50's, and played on many of Chess Records' recordings for other artists.  Unfortunately, Little Walter was given to drink and had a notoriously short temper, which in the late 50's, soon alienated him from everyone and made it difficult for him to remain successful.  He eventually died in early 1968 after a street fight, but his legacy continues as you see the list of artists influenced by him...pioneers like Junior Wells, James Cotton, Charlie Musselwhite, Carey Bell, Big Walter Horton, Paul Butterfield, and John Popper.  There is very little footage of Little Walter in action, all of it was captured during the American Folk Blues Festival tours of the 60's...a pair with Jacobs backing Hound Dog Taylor and Koko Taylor, and one with him working solo.  From 1967, here's Little Walter backing Hound Dog Taylor on "Wild About You Baby."

I love to watch these old videos because in my mind's eye, even though I've never seen a lot of artists play, I have pictured what they looked like for the most they played, how they sang, etc... These videos opened my eyes up to my favorite musicians.  Another one I had never seen perform was T-Bone Walker.  As pointed out several months ago on this blog, Walker was an innovator of his own, taking the electrification of the guitar, and expanding the possibilities and potential of the instrument to places previously unimagined, and influencing a boatload of guitarists (B. B. King, Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, SRV, and Eric Clapton) in the process.  As you can see from the video, Walker held his guitar at nearly a 90 degree angle from his body when he played.....something you probably wouldn't really understand unless you'd seen him do it.  While there are several videos of Walker on YouTube, this one, also from the festival, is one of my favorites because you really get the opportunity to see Walker play guitar as only he did it.  If you've followed FBF for awhile, you've seen this one, but it's good enough to take a second look.

Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins was another legendary performer who influenced others.  The Texas-based guitarist left a huge catalog of recordings, both electric and acoustic.  His recordings for Herald in the 50's are the stuff of legend, but nearly everything he recorded is worth hearing.  He was a gifted, nimble-fingered guitarist and his songs, often made up on the spot, were always memorable.  Hopkins got his start in the blues as a teenager in the 20's, serving as a guide for the legendary Blind Lemon Jefferson.  He later worked with Texas Alexander, and with piano man Wilson "Thunder" Smith (which led to the formation of Lightnin's nickname).  Despite those exciting Herald recordings, Hopkins faded into obscurity in the late 50's, until he was rediscovered as a folk blues artist.  His career took off once again and he never looked back, recording prolifically until his death in 1982.  Here's Hopkins rocking the house at the AFBF in 1964, playing "Mojo Hand."

For years, there was little video footage of Otis Rush, but in the past decade, a lot of performances have sprung up, including an 80's appearance at the Monterrey Jazz Festival (with Clapton and Luther Allison) and a couple of other concert DVDs.  This appearance from the American Folk Blues Festival, circa 1964, is one of his best and most intense.  Though he's unable to perform since his stroke several years ago, there are plenty of recordings and DVDs of his music to be heard and seen these days.  Rush was also a subject of a post here several months ago, so for more details, check that post out here.  Here's Rush, introduced by Roosevelt Sykes, playing "I Can't Quit You Baby."

A couple more before we go......Skip James has been covered pretty extensively here at FBF.  He also ventured overseas to the festival in the mid 60's.  James' version of the blues is the most stark and haunting you will hear.  This is a quick (under two minutes) version of "Crow Jane."  This is from the third volume of the American Folk Blues series, which features more acoustic artists than the previous two volumes.

Here's Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) playing "Nine Below Zero," backed by quite a band, which includes the great Otis Spann on piano, Matt "Guitar" Murphy on guitar, Willie Dixon manning the bass, and Billy Stepney on drums. The band is introduced by Memphis Slim, piano man extraordinaire, one of the musicians who ended up relocating in France.  He enjoyed quite a bit of success, and remained there for the rest of his life with the occasional trip back to the states.

The first volume of the series opens with this downhome track featuring Shakey Jake Harris singing "Call Me When You Need Me." Harris played harmonica and was part of the Chicago Blues scene in the 50's and 60's. He was also Magic Sam's uncle and appeared on several of Sam's early recordings, with Sam returning the favor by appearing on several of Shakey Jake's singles. You're familiar with the fellow backing Harris on guitar.  He sure makes it look easy, doesn't he?

Believe it or not, we have barely scratched the surface on this wonderful collection. There are four DVDs available right now, capturing the best of the festival throughout the 60's, featuring these artists and many, many others, like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, Earl Hooker, John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim, Bukka White, Koko Taylor, Roosevelt Sykes, Big Joe Turner, and many others. If you like the blues at all, you will absolutely have to have this set.  There are also some out-of-print CDs with festival performances floating around out there, too.

The American Folk Blues Festival continued on a nearly annual basis from 1962 until 1972. After eight years, it resumed in 1980 and continued until l985. There's also some YouTube footage of the 1982 festival (which I don't think is out on DVD yet). As we close for the week, enjoy this clip of the Sons of Blues playing Little Walter's "Juke." The SOB.'s were one of the newer bands at the time, and featured Billy Branch on harmonica and the awesome Lurrie Bell on guitar.  Now the band is booked as Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues.  Bell and later guitarist Carl Weathersby have long since departed.  A different version of the group (only drummer Moses Rutues is still with the group) continues to back Branch on the road.

One more thing before we go......if you're in the Phoenix area this weekend and itching to hear some great blues, harmonica player, producer, and radio show host (KJZZ's Those Lowdown Blues) Bob Corritore's club, The Rhythm Room, is celebrating its 20th Anniversary with an incredible weekend of blues.  Just check out the list of prestigious guests that will be helping Bob celebrate for three solid days.   

Friday, September 9, 2011

Blues and Remembrances

Today, we'll look at some new and upcoming releases, plus a few memorable performances, via YouTube.

Friday Blues Fix buddy Cee Cee James recently contributed a song to Never Forgotten, a benefit compilation CD honoring America's fallen heroes during and in the aftermath of 9/11.  James contributed "Someday I'll Be Goin' Home," which she co-wrote with her husband, Rob "Slideboy" Andrews, especially for the collection.  The CD features a variety of music (30 in all), ranging from Blues, Rock, Christian, Country, and Americana, all written in appreciation for the heroes of 9/11 and the Military.  Proceeds from sales of the CD benefit the Landstuhl Hospital Care Project, Wounded Warrior Project, 9/11 Families For A Secure America, and Operation:  Troop Aid.  Cee Cee discusses her participation in the project at her website.  For more info, or to purchase the CD or selected tracks, you can visit Thank You Heroes.

Speaking of Cee Cee, Ms. James will soon be returning to the studio with legendary producer Jim Gaines manning the controls.  Gaines has produced albums for Santana, Luther Allison, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Steve Miller, the Neville Brothers, Walter Trout, and George Thorogood, so you know she's in good hands.  The new CD, called Blood Red Blues, will be out in early 2012, so keep your eyes and ears open.

I wrote about Pete Herzog's ambitious project a few months ago. Herzog has composed a blues opera, called Steel Guitar, that is one of the most original ideas I've heard in quite some time. Herzog tracks the history of one guitar as it's passed from owner to owner, whether stolen, won in a card game, purchased or passed down from one generation to the next, using narration and music to illustrate the journey.  As the guitar passes through time and through different hands, as the liner notes state,".....its sound is colored by each person who plays it and they feel its history."  Herzog's songs give you a sense of the guitar's journey, incorporating various styles...all rooted in the blues.  It's an interesting journey and one worth taking if you're a fan of the blues or blues guitar.  Herzog recently released a double CD version of Steel Guitar, which can be purchased at his website, either as a CD or mp3.  You can also listen to samples of the tracks there.  He has a nice, easygoing style whether narrating the entertaining back stories or singing the songs.  Hopefully, in the future, he can get it released in DVD format as well, but in the meantime, give Steel Guitar a listen.

In recent years, one of my favorite CDs has been Fred Sanders' Long Time Comin'.  The Memphis guitarist really nailed it on that disc, with some wonderful Memphis blues and soul.  His muscular guitar sound and his raspy, soulful vocals made it a disc worth hearing, as I mentioned in an earlier post.  Sadly, Sanders has battled lung cancer over the last few years, and he passed away earlier this year after suffering a stroke.  He had been working on an album for I55 Productions, the label that earlier reissued Long Time Comin' after it went out of print, and it was released just a couple of weeks after Sanders' death.  The new album, called I Believe, picks up where its predecessor left off, with those greasy, gritty Memphis blues mixed with a touch of soul, funk, and even some jazz.  While Sanders' singing sounds as strong as previously, there are several instrumentals featured this time around that really allow him to show his guitar chops as well, which really put a modern twist on traditional blues guitar.  Unfortunately, these two albums are all the recordings we have of Fred Sanders, but you can't do much better than this pair to get a taste of how they play the blues in the Bluff City.  Hopefully, in the near future, we will look at some other essential recordings of Memphis Blues.

Some of the first Blues that I ever heard was, believe it or not, on the Tonight Show (probably B. B. King).  One good thing about Johnny Carson was that he booked some great music from many different genres, therefore exposing a lot of young listeners (because it was a BIG deal to get to stay up long enough to watch the Tonight Show back in the day) to a lot of different styles of music.  Jay Leno has continued that tradition for the most part and David Letterman and Arsenio Hall did the same thing.  As we sign off today, check out these tunes culled from the late night shows over the past couple of decades.

Bobby Womack, from David Letterman, roaring through "It's All Over Now." I can remember seeing this one when it first aired.

Stevie Ray Vaughan on the Tonight Show, circa 1990.

Brother Ray, from 1987 on the Tonight Show, playing "Mississippi Mud."

B. B. King and Buddy Guy, from 1993, around the time of King's Blues Summit release.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Honeyboy's Gift

When Honeyboy Edwards retired a couple of months ago, you sort of had the feeling that there was a reason........otherwise, I can't imagine that he ever would have stopped playing.  Since his death early Monday morning, there have been numerous tributes to him from many blues artists, writers, producers, managers, promoters, bloggers, etc...  I never got to meet him.  I wish I had taken the time in February to meet him after his performance at the Riley Center, to at least shake his hand and tell him how much I appreciated what he gave to the blues.

So, what exactly did Honeyboy Edwards give to the blues?  Sure, he was a good singer and a highly underrated guitarist, even a composer, but in the scheme of things, you have to admit that over time, there were better guitarists, better singers, and better composers, but there was only one Honeyboy, with his idiosyncratic playing style and gravelly vocals.  If you ever heard him, you knew who he was.  There are only a few blues musicians that you can really say that about. 

Even though he left home at age 14 to travel with Big Joe Williams, he was barely recorded at all (his 1942 recordings for the Library of Congress, a 78 in 1951 and four sides for Chess Records in 1953) until the late 1960's, in part due to his nomadic lifestyle.  However, he managed to outlast all of his contemporaries.  Included among the members of the "Class of '15" (Edwards' birth year) were Muddy Waters, Robert Lockwood, Jr., Willie Dixon, Brownie McGhee, Memphis Slim, Johnny Shines, Hound Dog Taylor.  That's a pretty impressive list.  Edwards played, recorded, and toured the world up until a few months before his death.  That's an 80+ year career, folks!!!!  The video below is from his final performance, on April 17, at the Cat Head Mini Blues Festival, with Bill Abel (guitar) and Michael Frank (harmonica) backing him.

The greatest gift that Honeyboy Edwards gave to the blues over his lifetime was to give fans (via countless interviews in magazines, books, and radio) a more vivid picture of what it was like during the blues' humble beginnings, before the days of electric instruments, Sun Records, Chess, VeeJay, Excello, and the rest, when musicians risked life and limb in the deep south moving from town to town to earn a living playing on the streets, in local joints, at fish fries, and at house parties....when musicians hoboed from town to town, riding the rails from the south to the north, looking for a way to get ahead, staying one step ahead of the law, or an angry woman, or a jealous husband.  For most of his listeners, Honeyboy's recollections were about as close as they would ever get to actually "living the blues."  As much as I enjoyed listening to Edwards perform over the years, it was even more interesting to hear about his life.  He had an incredible memory and could recall things from seventy years ago like they just happened.  That will be the biggest loss of all in losing Honeyboy Edwards.....that amazing memory and his wonderful stories.

Of course, he was most revered for his memories of Robert Johnson.  He was there in Leflore County, MS, when Johnson was poisoned by a jealous husband and saw most of what happened.  Sadly, it appears that he was our last living link to Johnson.....the last living musician to play with him, to talk with him, and to hang out with him.  He was always generous with his time regarding Johnson (and other bluesmen, like Tommy McClennan and Tommy Johnson), even though he usually ended up relegating himself to the background with each recollection.  He always gave the people what they wanted.

More than anything you can say about Honeyboy Edwards, that last sentence says it best......He gave the people what they wanted.  He wasn't a pioneer, a ground-breaking artist, a major innovator.  Instead, he was a guy who loved to play the blues and who filled more gaps in the music's history and lore than anyone else.  We owe a huge debt of gratitude to him (and to Michael Frank, who provided invaluable support to Edwards over the past 40 years, recording him for Earwig Records, serving as his manager, backing him on harmonica on tour, etc...) for what he gave us, on record and with countless interviews, stories, and even his own autobiography (absolutely essential reading for ANY blues fan).  His was a life well-lived and we should be glad that he shared a part of it with us.

A few of my favorite Honeyboy Edwards recordings.......

Delta Bluesman (Earwig):  a wonderful combination of the old and the new.  The "old" are Edwards' 1942 Library of Congress recordings.  The new are freshly (early 90's) recorded blues tracks that show how strong a performer Edwards was, even in his late 70's.  Though it's nice to have the Library of Congress songs, the modern tracks are really special.

Crawling Kingsnake (Testament):  Recordings made by Pete Welding in the mid to late 70's.  Edwards was at the peak of his powers at this time.  Too bad, no one was taking notice.  These recordings sat dormant for years (similar to his recordings for Chess, which weren't issued until being collected in an anthology set in the early 70's) before Testament reissued it in the late 90's.

Old Friends (Earwig):  The second-ever release from Earwig Records, this recording features Edwards with a quartet of old-school Chicago musicians - Sunnyland Slim, Kansas City Red, Big Walter Horton, and Floyd Jones.  Each took turns in the spotlight, and Edwards' material really stands out, but all of it is worth hearing.  It sounds like a bunch of buddies getting together and just making music.  Rough and ragged other words, it's nearly perfect!!  One of my all-time favorite recordings.

Shake 'Em On Down (APO):  To me, this is one of Edwards' best recordings.  The production and sound is first-rate and Edwards sounds as good as he's ever sounded.  There's also a 13 to 14 minute interview with Edwards as he recounts his days with Tommy McClennan, Tommy Johnson, and Robert Johnson.  This is a really well-done recording.