Category Archives: Chicago Blues

Song of the Day: Scrapper Blackwell – Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out

Scrapper Blackwell – Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out

 Most people know the classic “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” from the Eric Clapton cover performed on his Unplugged album. But this blues standard written by Jimmy Cox in 1923 is performed by a whole lot of people including Josh White, Sammy Price, Bessie Smith, Lavern Baker and Louis Jordan. But for the last few day I listened to the Scrapper Blackwell version.

Song about a one-time millionaire

Scrapper Blackwell recorded this song at a session in Chicago on August 15, 1928.  According to ‘Blues By Dick Weissman‘ : ” Its lyric, told from the point of view of a one-time millionaire during the Prohibition era, reflects on the fleeting nature of material wealth and the friendships that come and go with it” .

Who is Scrapper Blackwell?

All though nowaday he might be a bit unknown Francis Hillman aka “Scrapper” Blackwell was a well known guitarist back in the day. He made quite fame alongside Blues pianist Leroy Carr and recorded several albums with Carr. Scrapper Blackwell and  Leroy Carr met during a house party in Indianapolis  in 1927.

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Must listen masterpiece Big Bill Broonzy’s song “Hey Hey”

Picture Big Bill Broonzy - in video hey hey live recorded 1956 - Purpose of use To identify Broonzy and to provide critical commentary on him.
Picture Big Bill Broonzy – in video hey hey live recorded 1956 – Purpose of use To identify Broonzy and to provide critical commentary on him.

Must listen masterpiece Big Bill Broonzy’s song “Hey Hey”

He has influenced the Pre- and Post war blues scene, and in his early years he made fame as a folk blues musician. But when he moved to Chicago we really found out this bluesman from the south was a big man in Blues. The influence of Big Bill Broonzy on other musicians is huge.

Muddy Waters released a full length album with Big Bill’s work and Eric Clapton made a successful cover of the hit song “Hey Hey”. Clapton’s version was part of his unplugged album. The original “Hey Hey” by Broonzy is in my world an absolute favorite.

Big Bill’s playing style in ‘Hey Hey’

The way Big Bill Broonzy plays the difficult but catchy guitar riff is inspiring. In the version that was recorded live in 1956 you see a laid back Broonzy playing “Hey Hey” in a silent bar. Everybody in the audience is amazed, I guess, by the song Big Bill plays. I can watch this song over and over again and stay amazed by the smooth guitar playing style of Big Bill Broonzy.

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Classic Albums: Muddy Waters Sings Big Bill Broonzy

Classic Albums: Muddy Waters Sings Big Bill Broonzy

One of the leading figures in the post war Chicago Blues scene is Muddy Waters. Alongside Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter, Muddy was a big man of the Blues. His music needs no introduction and his influence is still visible today. But this master once showed his respect to another Chicago Bluesman. It was in In 1960, when Muddy Waters recorded an album as a tribute to Big Bill Broonzy ‘Muddy Waters sings Big Bill’.  

Big Bill Broonzy died two years earlier, but Muddy could be sure of Broonzy’s approval All Music writes: “Oh yeah, Muddy is a real singer for the Blues,” Big Bill, the Mississippi foundation stone, was heard to say early on in Muddy Waters’ career. The confident Muddy – who was already one of the kings of the blues – changed Big Bill’s repertoire into a Muddy Waters cocktail.

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Billy Boy Arnold’s Legacy as a Chicago Blues harpist

Billy Boy Arnold’s Legacy as a Chicago Blues harpist

In the Chicago blues scene of the 1950s Billy Boy Arnold  was doing a whole lot of recordings. He learned harp from Sonny Boy ‘John Lee’ Williamson just before Williamson’s death. He worked in his uncle’s store during those days and Williamson lived close.

As a teenager he debuted at the Cool label with the song “Hello Stranger” in 1952.  A few years later he was part of the Bo Diddley band that recorded ‘I’m A Man’ for Checker records. As a solo musician for Veejay he recorded songs like I Wish You Would” and “I Ain’t Got You”. But Billy Boy Arnold never reached the fame other Chicago bluesman around had. Nevertheless, the bluesman who was born and raised in Chicago recorded some of the finest  Rhythm ‘nd Blues songs.

Learning harmonica from Sonny Boy Williamson I

In an interview with L. “Chicago Beau” Beauchamp Billy Boy Arnold explained how the blues came to him. “Billy Boy Arnold’ s father, mother, sisters and grandparents all like and listened to the blues, so for Billy Boy the blues was the music he had to play. In his teenage years Arnold had a job in his uncle’s Butcher Shop, he learned Sonny Boy lived close and one day a man with a guitar around his neck, probably Lazy Bill Lucas walked by. Billy asked the men if he knew where Sonny Boy lived, the bluesman knew Sonny’s address and with his cousin Archie, Billy Boy went to 3226 South Giles and rang the bell. The blues master openened the door and said “Can I help you?”. Billy wanted to learn harmonica, Sonny boy said “Come on up, I’m proud to have you”.” (BluesSpeak: The Best of the Original Chicago Blues Annual, by Lincoln T. Beauchamp)

“A week later Billy returned to Sonny Boy’s house, he hadn’t improved his harmonica skills much. Sonny Boy thought Billy Boy came by to trade comics, because Williamson traded comics with a lot kids in the neighborhood. Billy Boy made clear he came around for harmonica lessons, the old master showed the kid how to play.” Sonny Boy Williamson was a really optimistic guy, Happy Go Lucky. (BluesSpeak: The Best of the Original Chicago Blues Annual, by Lincoln T. Beauchamp)

Sonny Boy´s Death and performing with Bo Diddley

One day in 1948, Yank Rachell tells, Sonny Boy Williamson stepped out of a cab on his way home, some other guys on the street jumped on Sonny Boy, knocked him down and robbed his money. Sonny Boy “John Lee” Williamson wouldn’t survive the robbery. Billy Boy Arnold lost his teacher but would go on. The Maxwell street market was a popular place for Blues Musicians. Earl Hooker, Muddy Waters and Little Walter all performed there. Billy Boy Arnold met Bo Diddley at the market, they started playing blues together. In 1955 Billy Boy was part of the band that recorded “I’m a Man for Checker records.

Billy Boy Arnold at Vee Jay Records

Billy Boy Arnold believed Leonard Chess didn´t like him, so he signed with Veejay Records . At Veejay Records he released songs like `I Wish You Would` and ´I Ain´t Got You´, here Billy Boy Arnold came to his best Rhythm ‘nd Blues songs. The songs were catchy Rhythmic and easy listenable. Maybe inspired by Bo Diddley but probably by his own feeling Billy Recorded some of the finest tunes around. Listen also to “Rockin’Itis”.

`I Wish You Would`

´I Ain´t Got You´

“Rockin’ Itis”

The late Sixties blues

After releasing the ‘More Blues From The South Side’ album the opportunities dried up which led to a small goodbye to the artist life. Billy Boy took jobs as a bus driver and even became a parole officer.

Billy Boy Arnold at Alligator Records

In 1992 Billy Boy made his come back at Alligator Records with the album BACK WHERE I BELONG. We would see a new Arnold with a repertoire containing more classic blues songs like ‘Fine Young Girl’ . Also ‘Whiskey Beer and Reefer’ is a traditional blues song. Alligator writes about this album: “the combination of Delta-influenced blues with a more urban sophistication not only defines Arnold’s sound, but was also a significant contribution in the early, formative days of rock and roll”. ELDORADO CADILLAC’s was the next album recorded for Alligator. Billy Boy Arnold was like R.L. Burnside and T. Model Ford back on top of business during the nineties.

The great Chicago Billy Boy Arnold can look back at a career that lasts more than sixty years. He plays blues and Rhythm and Blues. He recorded for a whole lot of record labels. The music and legacy of this blues master is worth and ode.

photo credit: Billy Boy Arnold@Mojo Workin’ 2014 via photopin (license)

Billy Boy Arnold Plays Sonny Boy Williamson

Billy Boy Arnold Back Where I Belong

Billy Boy Arnold – Oh! Me! Oh! My! Blues

From Bruce DiMattia – An interview with bluesman, Billy Boy Arnold, world famous blues vocalist, harmonica player and song writer, at the Chicago Blues Festival, June 1992.

An interview with Billy Boy Arnold, June 1992 from Bruce DiMattia on Vimeo.

Shake that Boogie

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From The Super Super Blues band a classic blues song “Long Distance Call”

super super blues band black bull blues -
From The Super Super Blues band a classic blues song “Long Distance Call”

In 1968 Chess studios released a unique album it was a collaboration of the greatest blues musician of that time; Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley recorded The Super Super Blues Band. This album is full of rocking blues classics, produced by Willie Dixon under the supervision of Phil and Marshall Chess. The fun part of this albums is that all three legends sings and play on every song together. You will hear Howlin’ Wolf sing Bo Diddley’s song “Diddley Daddy and  Muddy sings along on Wolf’s classic “Spoonful“.

Wrecking My love Life

A song you can listen all day is “Wrecking My Love Life”, besides the vocals of Muddy, Wolf and Diddley that really blast out of your speakers like it is a jam that is played in front of you, a magnificent woman sings soulful ‘woohoowoo baby…’ throughout the song. Wrecking My love Life is a blues version of Reggae.

Long Distance Call – Muddy Waters

Long Distance Moan – Blind Lemon Jefferson

Long Distance Call the 3 versions

Long Distance Call was first released in 1951 by Chess and reached #8 in the R&B chart. The song originates in the song “Long distance Moan” released by Texas bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson in 1929. While Muddy changed the name and lyrics of the song slightly, in the music you still hear a lot of moaning. Long Distance Call is a great example of the modern blues, there aren’t a lot of songs that show so good how blue someone can become as Long distance call. This song gets in your veins, bones and soul. Not only because of the lyrics but also through the guitar, the slow drums and the interludes that make this song so magical.

In comparison to the original Muddy Waters version, on the Super Super Blues band Record Long Distance Call is transformed into a rocking blues song. Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Sing and the slow drums are changed into a rhythmic beat. The guitar screams are replaced by harmonica grooves.

Long Distance Call – Super Super Blues Band

 Diddley Daddy

Diddley Daddy is another song worth listening on Super Super Blues Band. Diddley Daddy was recorded on May 15, 1955 in Chicago and became a signature song of Bo Diddley. It is cool to hear how Howlin’ Wolf easily takes over the lyrics of Bo. Like the original version, the Super Super blues band version is rockin’ blues. Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters make the song grooving like a jam. Interesting about this song is the 1963 cover by the Rolling Stones which was part of their first demo recording.

Rolling Stones – Diddley Daddy

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Gamblers blues of Shakey Jake Harris from Chicago to the West Coast

Gamblers blues of Shakey Jake Harris from Chicago to the West Coast

You could know Shakey Jake Harris as a nephew of bluesman Magic Sam, who made quite some fame in Chicago as an excellent guitar player. Shakey Jake, was like Magic Sam on the Guitar an excellent Harmonica player, who recorded five albums over a period of 25 years. Good Times his debut album released in 1960, consists a list of classic blues songs like “Huffin’ and Puffin’” and “Worried Blues”.

Nickname Shakey Jake

Shakey Jake was born James D. Harris in Earle Arkansas and moved at the age of seven to Chicago. In Chicago he made a career as a gambler and in that period he acquired his nickname Shakey Jake, Jake was shaking the dice. Shakey Jake continued to hustle throughout his career, mostly as a blues singer and harmonica player but he was also a producer and Club owner.

Debut recording Shakey Jake for Artistic Records

Even though Shakey Jake Harris was playing in blues bands since the forties, according to Wikipedia “His
debut recording did not take place until 1958. His single, “Call Me If You Need Me” / “Roll Your Moneymaker”, was released by Artistic Records, featured Magic Sam and Syl Johnson on guitar, and was produced by Willie Dixon”. “Jake did not get paid for the recording session, but the gambler he was, he won $ 700,- with tumblin’ Dice with label owner Eli Toscano”. (Source: Rowe, M (1981). Chicago Blues: the city and the music, New York: Da Capo Press, p. 180)

Shakey Jake Harris was inspired by John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson and Little Walter, even Shakey Jake recorded for several labels in Chicago, and made some pretty good records, he stayed in the shadow of his nephew and talented rising blues star Magic Sam. In 1962 Harris was part of the European tour of the American Folk Blues festival.

Moving to the West Coast

By 1968 Shakey Jake Harris moved to the West Coast to continue performing and recording for Polydor, World Pacific and Murray Brothers. There in Los Angeles, California Shakey Jake owned a club called the Safari club and started his own label Good Times Records. (Lee, P and Komara, E (2004). The Blues Encyclopedia, New York : Routledge, 2006 p.873)

When Jake’s health began to fail he went back to Arkansas, where he stayed till his passing in 1990. Shakey Jake Harris was a talented harmonica bluesman and a good Gambler and entrepreneur. His songs are divers, for example “Jake’s Cha Cha” is a The Ventures version of the blues. Other songs are filled with the Chicago Blues. Shakey Jake was a great Bluesman.

Feature picture credit: Harping the Blues by Alan Levine on Flickr. Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Shakey Jake Harris ~ Easy Baby

Shakey Jake Harris – Ragged and Dirty

Magic Sam & Shakey Jake Harris – Juke

Magic Sam & Shakey Jake Harris – Rock Me

Shakey Jake Harris – Jake’s Cha Cha

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