Original Liner Notes:
I would just like to say: This is the first album I ever made as to where I am completely satisfied with everyone concerned I worked with the best musicians in Europe, and to name one or not would be extremely unfair. So, I'm saying a million thanks to all the fine English musicians who worked so hard to help me tell the story of Blue Memphis along with the superb arrangements of the one and only Jerry Long, and the hard and sleepless days and nights that producer Philippe Rault put in, to get the ball rolling.
September 1970, Paris, France
Recorded at Delane Lea Studio (June 3, 1970) and at Olympic Sounds Studio (June 5, 6 & 18, 1970).
Mixed at Olympic Sounds, Studio B.
Additional Assistant Engineers: Jerry, Dave & John
Peter Green, Duster Bennett and Pete Wingfield appear courtesy of Blue Horizon Records.
John Paul Jones appears courtesy of Atlantic Records.
Chris Spedding appears courtesy of Harvest Records.
Special Thanks to Mary Ruth, Anna, Lynn Dobson and Jack (for the console cleaning job)
For 2006 Universal Reissue:
A first full-fledged assignment is always a daunting and nerve-wrecking, but at the same time, a very exciting moment in one's professional life. Since my arrival at Disques Barclay, I had already spent many hours in the control-room of various recording studios, especially in the company of my then boss and mentor, Bernard de Bosson. But, by the spring of 1970, he was leaving the company for higher spheres at WEA-Filipacchi. This was not long after he had signed Memphis Slim to Barclay for a long-term contract, and now Slim's first album for the French label was suddenly left up in the air. Then, at the end of April, I was asked to produce the album. As a long-time blues fan, it was with enthusiasm but also with some trepidation that I embraced the task at hand.
John Peter Chatman Jr., a.k.a. Memphis Slim, had been a familiar face of the blues for the French public ever since 1962, the year of his official move to Paris. Throughout the decade, he had become the number one blues musician and personality in town, acting de facto as the ambassador to France of that particular American musical style. He directed his operation from a Latin Quarter club named Les Trois Mailletz, his Parisian headquarters on rue de la Huchette, where he would receive and host a great number of members of the African-American artist community in Paris, as well as visiting itinerant bluesmen traveling about Europe. Madame Calvet, the tightfisted, no-nonsense French woman who commanded this cellar nightclub since the 1950s had immediately spotted Slim as the kind of artistic ringleader that could only mean good things for her financial balance sheet: guaranteed cash-flow, multiple-return patrons and an international musical magnet for American and European tourists in search of a true piece of bohemia, Southside of Chicago style. Myself, I had landed there for the first time back in 1964 with Eric Burdon and the Animals, five young lads from Newcastle very anxious to meet the big man after their own sold-out show at the Olympia Theatre. Slim's well-known blues standard, Mother Earth, was way up on their personal favorites hit list. And they had jammed till the wee hours of the morning.
To the rest of his adoptive countrymen, numerous appearances on the French national television network had made Memphis Slim a well-known figure. Jean-Christophe Averty had featured him in a 1962 TV special, simply entitled Memphis Slim On The Road, and he had been a guest several times on L'Ecole des Vedettes, a very popular program of that era. He had also appeared on a mainstream weekly show directed by Raoul Sangla, Discorama, where the ever calm, cool and collected Denise Glaser interviewed the singing stars of the period in an always classy and well-informed manner. Slim's powerful vocal style, remarkable piano playing and imposing presence behind the keys made him a stylist to reckon with, whether or not you liked the blues. And who could forget those oblong arch-tipped fingers sensually caressing the ivories with such ease and persuasion? Eight years after settling by the banks of the Seine, Memphis Slim had already made it into the pantheon of great 20th century African-American expat artists in Paris, along with Bricktop, Josephine Baker, Richard Wright, Johnny Griffin, James Baldwin, Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke.
All this to say that I was very aware that I was getting my first important production job with a legendary music figure. Indeed I had better get my act together and be prepared to give the project my utmost. Thankfully, Memphis Slim was very gracious and friendly, a real gentleman with a great sense of humor to top it all. Over soul food at his 16th district apartment, Boulevard Suchet, I was introduced to his family and friends, one of whom was going to be a crucial participant in the up-coming album.
Jerry Long had been an in-house arranger for Tamla-Motown in Detroit, writing music and scores for some big pop/soul projects, mostly under the guidance of Norman Whitfield, one of Motown's all-time star producers. He had worked on such hits as Trouble Man by Marvin Gaye, Still Water Runs Deep by the Four Tops and most notably had taken part in the resurrection of the career of the Temptations, arranging several songs for their Psychedelic Shack album.
Jerry had decided to go to Paris and further his classical music and counterpoint studies with world-renown teacher Nadia Boulanger.
On his time off from analyzing Bach's fugues, he had gone looking around town for some American musical companionship. All roads leading to Les Trois Mailletz, that's how he had met Slim.
Memphis Slim had had the idea of putting some of his life stories and experiences into music, within a blues form context of course, but with a more sophisticated orchestrated approach. Just like in a classical composition, he was thinking of a suite; and serendipitously Jerry Long had walked onto the scene and proposed to turn this dream into reality. His first album for Barclay was going to be The Blue Memphis Suite. After a number of meetings with the two of them, we decided to record in London, where Jerry could commuuicate better with the diverse musicians he envisioned to play on this "concept" album. We were talking about a very plush horn arrangement with maybe ten instruments in the section. As we were going to need some serious lead guitar and harmonica work, I submitted the idea of integrating a couple of very soulful British soloists, namely Peter Green, Fleetwood Mac's leading man, and also Duster Bennett and Pete Wingfield. Thanks to Mike and Richard Vernon at Blue Horizon Records, I contacted Peter about the project. In 1969, Fleetwood Mac had done some recordings in Chicago with Otis Spann, one of the most outstanding piano men of the Southside. Spann, an old acquaintance of Memphis Slim, had unfortunately just passed away, barely 40 years old.
Peter Green loved the opportunity of being able to play with another Chicago blues piano great and responded positively at once.
Among other players for the sessions, we decided to choose musicians who could be versatile, as this project required some ability to play down home style, as well as to be musically sophisticated enough for all the cues and deliberate arrangement segues that Jerry Long was going to write. That's how Chris Spedding, Conrad Isidore and Larry Steel came into the picture. Our "fixer"-read "musicians contractor"-David Katz, chose for us the cream of the crop of the 1970 English jazz scene to constitute the very crucial horn section. As I was researching recording engineers, Martin Birch at Delane Lea Studio seemed to fit the bill as suggested by fellow Barclay producer Alain Milhaud, and Giorgio Gomelsky vigorously recommended George Chkiantz, one of the brilliant upcoming engineers at Olympic Sounds Studio. That pretty much sealed the deal and we all headed for the Somerset House Hotel on Dorset Square, N.W.6, to get ready for the big day. Jerry Long was still writing the scores at breakfast that morning, as I soon found out he was certainly an inspired talent, but also very much of a "last minute" man.
Once in the studio, the combination of elements of this musical puzzle finally came together under his direction. The truly gritty keyboard style of Memphis Slim, well surrounded by players who had both a great feel and a polished restrained style of interpretation, fitted our man like a glove. We were also thankful to John Paul Jones who got behind the Hammond B3 and added a smooth and warm touch to the last sections of The Blue Memphis Suite. Peter Green's soaring solos and fills complimented this musical edifice perfectly. A humble man with a delicate but really soulful touch, he brought a lot of feeling to this recording.
After this first group of sessions, things sounded great but, due to Jerry's "last minute" working style, we were short by a couple of songs to complete the album. So we scheduled a day of recording two weeks later and I asked Slim to write two new songs that would, once again, make good use of Peter Green's enormous talent. This time around we cut the tracks with just a quartet. The trial of the Chicago Seven was going on during that same period, and Slim who had never been shy about putting out a stern statement about the mores of American politics, whether race or Vietnam, came up with an acerbic little song, Chicago Seven. The second tune he wrote was a tribute to Otis Spann and to another recently felled bluesman, the great Earl Hooker, whom we had seen in Paris in October of 1969, and whose style Peter Green emulated magnificently. This turned out to be a somber but at the same time beautiful session.
Two unreleased tapes were found while we were preparing the reissue of this album. A Jerry Long arranged version of Mother Earth, which is a rough mix done at the end of the original session. It was impossible to find the multitrack tape to mix this number again and do it full justice, but as this is quite a different take on the Peter Chatman blues classic, we thought you would be interested in checking it out. Also as a bonus track, we found a mono rough mix of a Memphis Slim composition which had all the earmarks of a soul/funk classic, I've Got Soul.
You should listen to this track as a sketch, an evolving musical idea as, obviously, lyrics still had to be written and some female background vocals may have been welcome for the final touch. Nevertheless, the groove and the feeling are right there, and Peter Green also shines.
The Blue Memphis Suite came out in Europe in the fall of 1970. Slim liked the record a lot and was very gracious in his compliments to both Jerry and myself. Following the French release, Warner Bros Records' Joe Smith heard the album and Disques Barclay was able to sign Memphis Slim for a long-term U.S. and Canadian distribution deal with the Burbank-based label. That was an exciting and memorable result, and for me the beginning of a very fruitful and friendly collaboration with Memphis Slim over a period of five years and for his next five albums.
Fall 2005, Los Angeles, California
Notes By Chris Spedding:
The year is 1970. We've got Memphis Slim, a classic blues legend; and there's guitarist Peter Green - the influential mainstay of the 60s British blues movement, taking some time off from his Fleetwood Mac; and John Paul Jones taking a holiday from Led Zeppelin; Duster Bennett, another formidable British blues luminary; the brilliant American arranger Jerry Long, on loan from Motown; and a horn section and rhythm section drawn from the cream of the 1970s London jazz and session scene, many of whom were later to achieve international renown. (Karl Jenkins, Pete Wingfield and Kenny Wheeler, for example.)
In the late Spring of 1970, producer Philippe Rault marshalled all these talents in a London studio, and the result is a gem of a record.
The Blue Memphis Suite is a collection of short descriptive blues pieces written, played and sung by Peter Chatman (a.k.a. Memphis Slim) and ingeniously arranged by Jerry Long. Long avoids the usual pitfalls of writing blues arrangements. (A bit of an oxymoron - how can you write a blues arrangement? Long manages it!)
In Born in Memphis, Tennessee, the man introduces himself in song and immediately we are immersed deep in the 1920s Memphis of Chatman's youth. There is some sophisticated use of tempo change and lush orchestration as Chatman "paddles his own canoe" up the Mississippi from Tennessee to Chicago, and the lyrics are not without a certain wry humour: At Ruby's Tavern in Chicago, for instance, Chatman was, "paid weekly...very weakly!"
Me And My Piano is a cameo demonstration of what we have come to indentify as the Memphis Slim style of piano playing, and Handy Man is, quite simply a rocker.
Screamin' And Cryin' is what the blues is all about. A slow lament laced in turn with filigree piano fills, Peter Green's eloquent guitar licks and Pete Wingfield's tasteful celeste, all underpinned and supported by John Paul Jones' Hammond organ. Blues Train is a further affirmation of what the blues is all about: "The blues belongs to me." He got that right.
Boogin' And Bluesin' is a classic blues shuffle with an autobiographical lyric - a kind of blues tour itinerary taking us all around the USA, ending up in "Gay Paree." Concluding The Blue Memphis Suite, the beautiful, reflective Wind Gonna Rise treats us to a lovely extended Peter Green guitar solo showing great passion and sensitivity.
Side Two of the original vinyl opened with Youth Wants To Know, effectively arranged by Long with guitars, keyboards and harmonica (from that other stalwart of the British blues movement, Duster Bennett) all contributing to a relaxed funky bluesy workout. 35 years after the event, I easily recognized my own wah wah/slide guitar part on this track. All in a day's work - although with hindsight, it wasn't every day I had the thrill of working with such blues legends as Memphis Slim and Peter Green.
The more up tempo Boogie Woogie 1-9-7-0 features New Orleans style "second line" drumming and some exciting piano duelling between Chatman on acoustic and Wingfield on electric pianos, punctuated by comments from Green's guitar. Otis Spann & Earl Hooker is a touching tribute to the two blues legends, while Chicago Seven is inspired by the events of the civil rights movement of the 1960s with some blistering guitar work from Peter Green. The vinyl version of the original album closed with Mason-Dixon line, a rollicking good song, a full arrangement, and everyone having a great time.
And thete are two bonus tracks, which can only have been left off the original issue because there was no room on the vinyl - Mother Earth, for instance, is arguably one of Chatman's best songs and this version gets a lush texture from the use of background singers Kay Gardner, Barry St. John & Lisa Strike, and the hauntingly atmospheric I've Got Soul, a wonderful groove and great playing. A rare treat and a fitting closer to a remarkable collection.
The combination of Long's subtle arrangements and Peter Green's restrained guitar licks make this record a notable achievement from a great blues master.
Fall 2005, Los Angeles, California.
Mastered at Art & Son Studio, Paris
Front cover painting inspired from a photo by Alain Marouani.
This album was originally released in France in 1970 as Barclay 920214 and in the U.S. in 1970 as Warner Bros. Records 1899.
Compact Disc Digital Audio
This compilation (P) 2006 Universal Music France
Maison De Blues
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