Friday, May 29, 2020

Big Finds at the Little Big Store (Part 1)

I'm one of those grumpy old guys who still likes to listen to CDs and go to record stores.  I still find a good many of the former, but they're just not at the latter when I find them.  As most folks know, the record store is a dying breed....even a record department in a store is almost a thing of the past.  Two of the things I enjoyed doing when I would venture out shopping was go to a book store or a record store.  These days it's hard to do either one of those things.

On Memorial Day this year, I was around Jackson, MS with a few hours to kill, so I did some driving around the area.  About twenty miles south of Jackson is a little town called Raymond, where there's a Civil War battlefield park, a cemetery, a Mississippi Blues Trail marker (The McCoy Brothers....20's - 40's recording artists who wrote "Corrine, Corrina," "When The Levee Breaks," and "Why Don't You Do Right"), and The Little Big Store, a used record store located in the old depot building that I had not visited in ten years or more

The Little Big Store buys and sells albums, tapes, CDs, magazines, books, posters....just about anything music-related, and the store is packed from one end to the other with product.  It's easy to spend several hours in there just looking around, overwhelmed at what's available.  Well, I had a few hours, and it just happened to be open that day and I was the only one in there besides the owner, so I had the place to myself.

I thumbed through the albums for a bit, even though I don't even have a record player anymore.  I just like to look at the covers and admire the creativity that went into producing them.  There was a nice selection of books available from a number of musical genres, but I have so many to read right now, I didn't add to my stack.

I walked over to the blues CDs, not really looking for anything in particular, and started flipping through the five or six rows, which is a considerable improvement from the blues selection in the last few record stores I've stumbled across.  The last time I'd been in The Little Big Store, there wasn't a lot of selection, but have mercy, that wasn't the case this time.  I guess a lot of people now probably sell their CDs after converting them to digital format, but I had a lot of great ones to consider for purchase this time.

I finally settled on four, and at $5 apiece, I thought I got a steal for each one.  I had been trying to locate some of them for a couple of years now and most were priced out of my range at places where I had looked....not tremendously expensive, but more than I wanted to pay for them.  For example, I had checked online for a couple of these the night before and the lowest prices I found were about five times what I paid for them (plus overseas shipping).  I thought I'd spend the next few weeks discussing each one of the treasures I found.

This week's selection is a set from a Texas bluesman from the 50's and early 60's named Frankie Lee Sims.  For a long time, the only thing I knew about Frankie Lee Sims was that he had a song on an ACE Records anthology (Kings of the Blues) that I'd picked up in the late 1980's.  Later on, when Jimmie Vaughan released "Six Strings Down," in tribute to his late brother, he made a reference to Sims as one of those blues stringers still going strong in Heaven.  Based on the other guitarists Vaughan acknowledges in the song, I figured he would have to be something special, so I've looked for some of his music off and on ever since.

In the late 40's/early 50's, Sims was part of the Texas country blues scene along with Lightnin' Hopkins, Lil' Son Jackson, Smokey Hogg, and others.  In Sims' All Music Guide bio, Bill Dahl wrote, "Sims developed a twangy, ringing electric guitar style that was irresistible on fast numbers and stung hard on the downbeat stuff."  He first recorded for Blue Bonnet Records in the late 40's, then recorded a number of tracks for Specialty Records, one of which was "Lucy Mae Blues," the track he is probably best known for.  In the late 50's, he joined Ace Records (Johnny Vincent's label) and recorded several sides.  He passed away from pneumonia in 1970, at age 53.

The CD that I found this week was called Lucy Mae Blues, and it collects all of Sims' Specialty recordings, issued and unissued, from his singles, his one album, and a few alternate takes.  In some ways, Sims reminds me of Hopkins, but his guitar playing is fairly unique and he sounds good on the upbeat songs and the more mellow tunes, too.  He has a relaxed, almost soothing delivery.  Some of my favorites include the title track, "Long Gone," "Walking Boogie (Part 4)," "Frankie's Blues," "I'll Get Along Somehow," and "Frankie Lee's 2 O'Clock Jump."

I'm not sure how much a lot of newer blues fans enjoy the early country blues sounds from Texas and Louisiana, and they don't always get as much play as the blues sounds from Mississippi, but it's a very enjoyable brand of blues.  If you enjoy the swamp blues of Louisiana, well, the Texas/Louisiana country blues are pretty closely related.  I was sort of a late arrival to these sounds, coming to appreciate Lightnin' Hopkins much later than I should have.  Frankie Lee Sims fits nicely into that niche, and I wonder how much further he might have gone if he had been able to capitalize on the folk-blues revival of the early 60's, as Hopkins did.

Come back next week to check out another treasure from my Memorial Day excursion.

By the way, in case you missed it over the last couple of weeks, there's been a third picture of Robert Johnson that's been revealed.   It belongs to his stepsister, Annye Anderson, who recently completed a memoir, Brother Robert:  Growing Up With Robert Johnson, with author Preston Lauterbach.  She was eleven when Johnson took the picture in a Beale Street photo booth during the 1930's.  The first picture that was first shown in the mid 80's, was also taken in a photo booth....not sure if it was at the same time, but the new picture shows a smiling, seemingly carefree Johnson that's different from the unsmiling countenance of the first picture.  I'm excited about Ms. Anderson's new book because it will be the closest look we actually have at this mysterious blues man's life and personality.  Meanwhile, here are the other two known pictures of Robert Johnson, just in case you missed them.


Joe Hynes said...

Thanks for posting this. I really enjoyed listening to Mr Sims. I never heard of him, but I discovered Lightning Hopkins in the 1970s. I found a "cut out" album, probably in a Woolworth store. I still have the album and play it once in awhile.

I will continue following your posts.

Graham said...

Thanks for visiting. The first Lightnin' Hopkins I heard was a cut-out cassette of his Herald Recordings in the late 80's. Nice way to get started.