Tag Archives: Willie Dixon

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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Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson a career of Blues, Rock ‘n Roll and Rhythm ‘nd Blues

Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson a career of Blues, Rock ‘n Roll and Rhythm ‘nd Blues

Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson has done it all. The piano player and singer recorded infectious music in a wide range from Rhythm and Blues to Rock ‘n Roll to Rockabilly, Blues and Gospel. You may know him for his 1955 hit record “Red Hot”, which was later covered by Elvis Presley and Billy Lee Riley. But Billy ‘The Kid’ has recorded way more songs in his long career, which led to collaborations with the greatest musicians in Blues and Rock ‘n Roll.

Born in Tarpon Springs, Florida Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson learned the piano at a young age. He joined several local bands before he entered the United States Navy. After World War II Billy Emerson continued performing in the Florida area, where he picked up his nickname “The Kid”. According to Sun Records “He picked up his nickname while playing a joint in St. Petersburg; the club owner dressed the band up in cowboy duds that begged comparison with a certain murderous outlaw.

Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson’ Sun records Days

After Billy Emerson met Ike Turner, while he was stationed in Memphis he became part of Turner’s Rhythm Kings. Turner introduced Emerson to the Sun Record label which led, in 1954 to ‘Billy the Kid’s first single called “No Teasing Around”. Billy Emerson became an important writer for Sun record. his repertoire consisted of a variety of Blues and Rhythm ‘n Blues songs like ‘When it Rains it Really Pours’. He became a popular musician in the Rock ‘n Roll and Rockabilly scene which inspired Elvis Presley, Billy Lee Riley for Sun and Bob Luma to re-record Emerson’s greatest hits.

Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson for Vee-jay Records

Billy Emerson’ last recording for Sun “Little Fine Healthy Thing” failed to sell, Emerson exited Sun to sign with Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records in late 1955. Sun Records recalls: “Despite first-rate offerings such as the jumping “Every Woman I Know (Crazy ‘Bout Automobiles)” and a sophisticated “Don’t Start Me to Lying,” national recognition eluded Emerson at Vee-Jay too”.

At Vee-Jay Record Billy Emerson’s style became more Blues, more Rhythm ‘n Blues, nevertheless his song would stay as catchy as in the Sun period. For example the hit ‘Crazy ‘Bout Automobiles’, consist steady drums a groovy horn ensemble and a twisting saxophone solo. Above all there is room for the swinging vocals of Billy ‘the Kid’ Emerson.

Chess Records period

After a few years at Vee-Jay the recordings continued at Chess Records in 1958. Along his first few singles was “Woodchuck”. Emerson recorded this song earlier at Sun Records. The Chicago version, is much bluesy more singing, less talking. Another song from the Chess period is ‘Holy Mackerel Baby’, in this song Emerson tried a style of singing I haven’t heard before. Clean, no shouting, no gritty of raw-edge.

Woodchuck at Chess
Woodchuck at SunHoly Mackerel Baby’

Own Label Tarpon and collaborations with the biggest bluesman

After recording for some of the largest labels in Blues and Rock ‘n Roll around the USA, Emerson decided to start his own label called Tarpon in 1966. In addition to Emerson’s own stuff, Tarpon issued Denise LaSalle’s debut single. He continued performing with the Biggest Bluesman like Willie Dixon, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Earl Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson II. Billy ‘The Kid’ had an impressive career which led him to musical styles in the broad land of Roots Music.

Photo Credit feature picture: By Lioneldecoster (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Billy (The Kid) Emerson – Move Baby Move

Billy (The Kid) Emerson – every woman i know

 

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Classic Blues Songs and Traditional: Goin’ Down Slow

Classic Blues Songs and Traditional: Goin’ Down Slow


Some blues songs contributed so much to the history of blues and music that the can be named classic songs, or even a traditional. A few musicians have that honour. One of them is St. Louis Jimmy Oden. Goin’ Down Slow’ written by his hand in 1941 is covered over a forty times, and in my opinion it would still be a hit.

This November it rained so hard you wouldn’t think about goin´ out on the street. And yeah there was I walking to the city centre. Muddy Waters, best recordings was on headphone. The song: Goin’ Down Slow. It was what you can call right song on the right time. Wet from the rain, and cold from the wind. After Muddy version was finished. I searched for more versions while freezing my hands of. Wolf, Walter, Dupree, Charles and Sonny Terry’s Goin’ Down Slow made that terrible walk a pleasure. I searched around and found a whole lot of covers of Oden’s Masterpiece. Some of old dogs in blues, also a lot of new bluesman.

The Original: St. Louis Jimmy Oden Blues composer

St. Louis Jimmy Oden was a profilic composer from St. Louis alongside Roosevelt Sykes, Oden travelled throughout the south, mid-west and eventually settled in Chicago. Those days piano and guitar teams where popular around St. Louis. Odin recorded Goin’ Down Slow on November 11, 1941, and was issued on Bluebird records that year.

Other recording Goin’ Down Slow

More than forty times this traditional blues song had been recorded. Champion Jack Dupree, Roosevelt Sykes and Ray Charles where the first musicians to cover Oden’s hit. Almost every recording of Goin’ Down Slow stays close to the original. Howlin’ Wolf however, slightly changed some of the lyrics with the help of Willie Dixon. Wolf and Dixon made a greet dialog song of Goin’ Down Slow. How life for a man slowly slips away. Especially this rhyme:

“Man, you know I done enjoyed things
That Kings and Queens will never have
In fact, Kings and Queens can never get
And they don’t even know about it and good times?”

Howlin’ Wolf – Goin’ Down Slow

The bluesman who dominated the scene for a whole lot of years Howlin’ Wolf recorded Goin’ Down Slow in 1961 for Chess Record. His version is the grittiest, darkest and baddest of all, and therefore maybe the best. You would think It was written for Howlin’ Wolf. Willie Dixon added a few lyrics to the song.

“Now looky here, I did not say I was a millionaire
But I said I have spent more money than a millionaire
‘Cause if I had kept all of the money I done already spent
I would’ve been a millionaire, a long time ago
And women? Great googly moogly”

Little Walter – Goin’ Down Slow

Especially the intro of Walter’s Goin’ Down Slow is amazing, this true electric version is like a opera. Walter really creates the tradegy of the song, and makes it a real blues hit. The electric guitar part is deep and leading in this song. You wouldn’t expect such a leading guitar part in a Little Walter song.

Cousin Joe – Goin’ Down Slow

Down in New Orleans Cousin Joe recorded Goin’ Down Slow in 1994 on his Bad Luck Blues Album. Like you would expect from Cousin Joe the piano is a bit groovy, but Joe’s voice is the key to listening to this song. Joe preaches slow.

Sonny Terry & Brownie MC Ghee – Goin’ Down Slow

Like you would expect from Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee they turn this blues traditional into a Delta Folk mixer. Like most of the versions Goin’ Down Slow is a slow song, but Sonny adds with his harmonica a whole lotta groove into the composition.

BB King – Goin’ Down Slow

One of the few who make this Goin’ Down Slow a groovy rhythm full song is BB King. Especially the ongoing beat makes this song. But BB soulful voice is absolute fantastic.

After listening to al the version of Jimmy Oden’s masterpiece I really favoured the versions of Wolf and Walter. A few weeks later BB King was the man to listen to. There aren’t that many songs that have been recorded so many times, and that is a great thing about this song. You will change your favourite version a couple of time. But the song never changes.

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Willie Dixon documentary I Am The Blues

Willie_Dixon_1979_ Wiki photo by Len Carlson creative commons
Willie_Dixon_1979_ Wiki photo by Len Carlson creative commons

I am the Blues – Willie Dixon

Willie Dixon is the man who changed the style of the blues. As a songwriter and producer, the man was a genius. If you wanted a hit song, you went to Willie Dixon. Played it like he said play it, and sing it like he said sing it, and you damn near always had a hit. Willie Dixon taught bass players how to rock ‘n’ roll.

Listen to him on Chuck Berry’s Chess recordings of “Rock and Roll Music,”and “Reelin’ and Rockin”. He took big band music and Mississippi blues and melded them into something new, opening the door for Motown and others to walk in and take it even further.

Dixon wrote songs for Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor, Little Walter and many more blues

The Blues are the true facts of life expressed in words and song, inspiration, feeling, and understanding.
– Willie Dixon –

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Spoonful by Blues Hit Maker Willie Dixon

Men lies about little,
Some of them cries about little,
Some of them dies about littles,
Everything fight about a spoonful,
Dat spoon, dat spoon, dat …

Spoonful by Blues Hit Maker Willie Dixon

Some people understand how music has to be made. How the groove and feel of a song has to fit perfectly with the lyrics. How a song should be performed and how the singer should sing it. Willie Dixon was the hit maker of the blues. A man who was the blues and knew how it should be performed. We can recall a dozen of songs Dixon wrote  like “My Babe”, Hoochie Coochie Man and Little Red Rooster that are absolute blues classics. Today the classic song is “Spoonful”.

Meaning of Spoonful

In his biography I am the Blues, Dixon explained the meaning of the song. It doesn’t take a large amount of anything to be good. If you have a little money when you need it, you’re right there in the right spot. (Willie Dixon, i am the Blues, p 148). Many people thought the song spoonful was a metaphor  for drugs. Especially after Cream covered the song in a psychedelic way on their Fresh Cream album. The song was part of the sixties counter culture .

Willie_Dixon_1979_ Wiki photo by Len Carlson
Willie_Dixon_1979_ Wiki photo by Len Carlson

Willie Dixon wrote the song that was first performed by Howlin’ Wolf in 1960. Dixons´ Spoonful was loosely based on A Spoonful Blues from Charley Patton, recorded in 1929. That song relates to All I Want Is A Spoonful by Papa Charlie Jackson (1925) . Howlin´ Wolf who was known for his howlin’ made a slow and relaxed version of the song, with no howlin’ but accompanied with groovy guitar and rhythmic piano.

After Howlin´Wolf Etta James recorded the song in 1961. For the version of Etta James she added to her golden voice a Bazzy Big Band sound . The song was a duet with Harvey Fuqua recorded like a dialogue between James and Foqua. The interpretation of the song changed a little, the lyrics  relate to men’s sometimes violent search to satisfy their cravings.

Psychedelic version Spoonful: Cream

The most alternative version of Spoonful is without a doubt Creams version. The song was often performed live and lasted easily fifteen minutes. Especially the improvisation of Clapton, Bruce and Baker the song starts with brilliant. On Youtube you can’t find the fifteen or twenty minute version, but these eight minutes are pretty great too!

Willie Dixon greatest Blues hits

Especially in the sixties Spoonful was widely performed by a lot of blues and beat musicians. Other versions of the song I did not mention but are absolutely worth listening are the Q 65 version, a Dutch beat band. Canned Heat’s version of the song or George Thorogood’s.

Spoonful was just one of the great songs of Willie Dixon. He always made his songs work, her recalls it in his biography: “It couldn’t make sense you can’t make peace if you want to make peace”.

Etta James: Spoonful

Cream: Spoonfull

Howlin Wolf – Spoonful (Psychedelic version)

Other Versions of Spoonful on Spotify.

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