Original Issue Liner Notes:
EDDIE BOYD must be one of the few in this world who claim to have two birthdays. His passport states that he was born on November 13th 1914. But Edward Riley, as he was christened, claims that he was actually born on November 25th 1914. His birthplace, a plantation some distance from Clarksdale, Mississippi, was owned by one Frank Moore. William Boyd, Eddie's father, saw little of his son; as an entertainer he was usually touring the juke joints of the southern States. "It was my grandfather who really looked after me, until I was fourteen years old, when I decided to leave and go to Arkansas." In fact, Eddie didn't actually decide to leave - he had to. George Crumble was the plantation boss, a very severe man. One day, Eddie had a fight with Crumble and stabbed him in the back with a hay-fork. As Eddie says: "Man, there was eight thousand men came looking for me. Cars, horses - and I was only a little boy. So that's how I left my home town." Before this, Eddie had only been as far as the neighbouring township of Clarksdale.
Eddie tried to play a little guitar, but didn't make much progress. He married and moved on to Memphis, where he met a trumpet player, Eddie Childs, who helped him to learn the rudiments of music. Meeting a drummer, Robert Garner, was another stroke of luck: the two formed a 'band' to play parties and local barrel houses. Eddie played an old beaten-up trumpet, which he had had to straighten out; and in the bell he put a kazoo! Playing guitar and singing too, they earned enough to keep alive. But working in only one key - that of B flat - was a little tiring. Just as soon as Eddie was able to play in two different keys, he moved away from Millington and Woodstock, Memphis suburbs, into Beale Street, in the heart of the city. Working for seven dollars a week, seven nights a week, and twelve hours a night was quite something! It was on Beale Street that Eddie formed his first real band. "I met Willie Herd - drummer. And we created a band called the Dixie Rhythm Boys. There was Eddie Childs playing trumpet, Alex Atkins playing clarinet, and I was on piano. We was playing barrelhouse blues and a few pop tunes." Eddie worked on Beale Street for some two to three years, along with other great pianists of that era, Roosevelt Sykes, Memphis Slim, and the man with only seven fingers, Jack Slack. Also two others who helped Eddie to formulate his own particular style - Edward Hatchett and Booker T. Jones. Things were beginning to look good, until Eddie got 'ramblin' on his mind and moved to Chicago. He quickly made friends with Memphis Slim, and the two of them started working together on the South Side. By 1941 Eddie was playing along with Slim, Bill Broonzy and Sonny Boy Williamson, at the Triangle Inn on 14th Street and Blues Island. As Eddie states: "I didn't really learn about music until 1946." It was working with Sonny Boy that helped him.
Perhaps 1946 could be said to be the turning point in Eddie's career. Sonny Boy Williamson (John Lee), was killed and Eddie immediately left the band to form his own group, along with Lonnie Graham (guitar), Alfred Elkins (bass) and Booker T. Washington (drums). He made his first recording that year also, for R.C.A. Victor. Several sessions followed, through 1947 into 1948. The work was good but the breaks were just not there. Eddie married again in 1948 and to earn more money began working in a steel mill for eighty cents an hour. He had the idea to save enough so that he could hire a studio to cut his own session. He would pay the musicians himself, and then the master recording would belong to him. Gathering together his hand-picked group of musicians, Ernest Cotton (tenor saxophone), L.C. McKinley (guitar), Alfred Elkins (bass) and Percy walker (drums), Eddie recorded a song entitled 'Five Long Years'. The record was later released on the J.O.B. label, owned by Joe Brown, and became a National hit. In fact it reached number one in the R & B charts! From that moment on, all the major companies in Chicago wanted Eddie under contract. It made sense that the largest should eventually win over the others. Eddie signed a contract with Al Benson, who then sold the contract to Leonard Chess, head of the Chess and Checker group. 'Twenty-Four Hours' was his second Chess release and became an immediate hit. Others were to follow, but none was to exceed the success of that first big seller, 'Five Long Years'.
"Everything was good with me whilst I was with Chess, until 1957. That's when St. Louis Jimmy wrecked my car. A total loss, I didn't have any insurance on it myself. It happened at Walkeagan, Illinois, on the way to Milwaukee. I had played a date in Harvey and had dropped the band off in Chicago. I let Jimmy help me drive. Well, I was really sleepy and before that car changed to high gear I was asleep and the next thing I could remember, it seemed like there was bombs dropping, and thunder, 'cause he was hitting the concrete posts on the side of the road. He turned and went back into the highway in the southbound traffic, but he was still heading north! So I looked up and there was this big truck coming at us, pulling two of those big tanks - I guess they was diesel. I just hit this cat with all my might and he fell over to the left and the car went that way - it was straightening up. After a while he picked up speed and he went straight into a huge elm tree. And that's where I got this scar on my face, and some teeth got knocked out. For ninety-five days I was in a cast to keep me walking today, and this all cost me 45 hundred dollars!"
Eddie made some more records after leaving Chess brothers, but for much smaller concerns: Narvell Eatmon's Bea & Baby label, and Joe Brown's small Oriole company. His present life is a quiet one. He has a small farm some sixty miles out of Chicago, at Moments. He keeps chickens as well as growing different vegetables. In the winter Eddie returns to Chicago where he works in some of the clubs.
In 1965 Eddie Boyd visited these shores for the first time as a member of the '65 Folk/Blues Festival Package. He made many friends whilst he was here, John Mayall included. The rest of the Package tour left for the States, but Eddie stayed on, making his temporary home in Antwerp, Belgium. working all over Europe for some sixteen months, Eddie decided it was time to get back to the farm. But he dearly wanted to record an album with John Mayall and his band. It fell to me to arrange this.
For someone who had been 'off' the American blues scene for so long, Eddie showed a great deal of concern for using the current beat, even on many of the slower numbers. Having Aynsley Dunbar and John McVie as the rhythm section made the task in hand a little simpler. Usually the biggest headache of all is to find a guitarist with the blues 'feel'. It's almost as if Peter Green was specially designed to fit the bill. To ring the changes, John Mayall himself was featured on a few numbers playing acoustic and amplified harmonica. And so the scene was set.
The choice of material was almost entirely left up to Eddie, although I had requested that he should re-record some items that were done in the years past. He obliged by giving superb renditions of 'Unfair Lovers', 'Blue Coat Man', 'Save Her, Doctor' and 'Vacation From The Blues'. Eddie's version of the late Elmore James' epic 'Dust My Broom' features the fine bottleneck guitar-work of Tony McPhee. Further detailed explanations of the songs are not really necessary from me at this point, but I should like to make two points known. Firstly, we have included two parts of 'Too Bad'. There is a good reason for this. In the past, all too often, an artist records one number on one day, is not too happy with the result and so re-records it a following day. The second version of 'Too Bad' seemed to be to all of us superior to that version done three days earlier. Eddie remarked on hearing the playback: "Now, you put some reeds and brass on that and you'll have something really strong man!" It seemed like a good idea, and so we booked some musicians to overdub the following week. The result is just what we had hoped for.
This album then, represents the blues of Eddie Boyd. Not a young man anymore, but still a pianist and singer of great standing. He is moving forward, unlike so many others of the same generation, who have grown firm roots in one particular style. Certainly, Eddie has his own style, but by adding the right ingredients to the right material, we have produced something unexpected and something exciting. Eddie Boyd has a long way to go before he becomes another 'forgotten bluesman'.
MIKE VERNON - Producer
© 1967, The Decca Record Company Limited, London
2004 CD Reissue Notes:
Eddie Boyd: The Later Chapters
In the second half of the 1960s Eddie Boyd spent a good deal of time in Europe, playing now in this country, now in that. So far as recordings were concerned, though, the initial interest was all in England, and the first three albums of his post-American career were for English labels. The first, for Fontana, was Five Long Years, recorded while he was here with the 1965 American Folk Blues Festival, the band being composed of fellow members of the touring troupe, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Lee Robinson and Fred Below. A year and a half later came the sessions that produced Eddie Boyd And His Blues Band, originally issued on Decca. Then, at the beginning of 1968, some of the same personnel - Boyd, Peter Green, John McVie and producer Mike Vernon - reconvened, with drummer Mick Fleetwood, to make 7936 South Rhodes for Vernon's Blue Horizon label.
Thereafter Boyd recorded a stack of albums in various European countries, at least a couple of them in Finland, where he spent his last years. (He died in 1994.)
Most of those LPs have not been transferred to CD; two that have are The Blues Of Eddie Boyd: Live In Switzerland 1968 (Storyville), actually recorded in 1967, and A Sad Day (EPM Blues Collection), recorded in Paris in 1980. Both albums are solos. During his years in Europe Boyd slowly came to the conclusion that he did best without backing musicians. "I've found out I sound much better alone than I do with those groups," he told Living Blues in a 1977 interview (LB 35-37). "So from now on out, man, I don't want to record with no band at all." The solo setting confirmed that he was a solid, unflashy pianist, not outstandingly inventive but admirable when accompanying his singing. Though he described himself as "a very proud man", Boyd was clear about his limitations. "I don't master no piano," he told Living Blues, "but I mean I'm comfortable, you know." And again: "I don't think I'm no wizard of a piano player. But I know how to play piano now, and I know what I'm playing."
The reaction to Eddie Boyd And His Blues Band, when it was first released in 1967, was friendly but tepid. Previous English recordings by visiting American blues artists had not, in most cases, been reckoned to be wholly successful, which is why Simon Napier, writing in Blues Unlimited, made a point of saying: "This is one English session that wasn't spoiled by the group or conditions." The band, he allowed, "are adequate, even inspired in a predictable sort of way...Peter Green really can play guitar." But the record failed, for him, "because Eddie Boyd isn't, and never will be, a really top-ranking artist". Paul Oliver, reviewing it in Jazz Monthly, took a similar line. After mentioning several of the figures whom Boyd had worked with in the '40s and '50s he concluded that he "is a lesser artist than these contemporaries". The accompaniments were again adjudged "adequate", and "entirely suitable...the total sound is approximately that of run-of-the-mill late Victors and Bluebirds."
Vernon and the musicians might have been disposed to take that as a compliment. Boyd's first recordings, in the latter part of the '40s, were late Victors, generally with quite respectable bands that included players like reedsmen J.T. Brown and 'Sax' Mallard and elegant guitar-players like Willie Lacey and Lonnie Graham. Boyd was particular about guitar-players. "My best of all was Lee Cooper," he said in a 1971 interview (Blues Unlimited 87-88). "He could play anything playable." It's Cooper whom one hears on some of Boyd's Chess sides of the '50s. "I played a long time with Robert Jr. Lockwood," he continued. "I liked him as a brother but his style never did fit me...because he don't sustain the chords enough." What Boyd expected of a guitarist was that he "sustain the chords and fill in and then get out of the way...when he takes a solo, take a clean solo, no screaming." Harmonica players he had very little use for. "I guess a harp throws me off," he admitted in the Living Blues interview. "I mean it doesn't help me. It doesn't have the sound that pushes me, you know, that I get [something] out of."
It's worth recording Boyd's views on these matters, since a good many listeners today will be drawn to this album by the presence of Peter Green. One would guess, from his quiet but poised contributions to tracks like 'Ain't Doin' Too Bad' and 'Too Bad Part 2', that Green satisfied Boyd's requirements, at least at the time. Later Boyd would speak a little slightingly of his English sessions, and in the case of 7936 South Rhodes one can see why, because Green was mixed too low and McVie way too high. Neither album, perhaps, shows Green at full stretch, but there are numerous passages in Eddie Boyd And His Blues Band that should give pleasure to his admirers. As for Boyd's admirers, they have plenty to be happy with, such as the spirited remakes of 'Blue Coat Man' and 'Vacation From The Blues' and, especially, the solo tracks such as 'Unfair Lovers' or 'Letter Missin' Blues', which pour Boyd's characteristic cocktail of blue feelings over the ice of sharply observant language. Stories sad but true were Boyd's stock-in-trade, but in the years since this album was made such narratives of quiet desperation have lost much of their place in the blues repertoire. One of several reasons for welcoming back Eddie Boyd And His Blues Band is the opportunity to be reminded of them by the work of a talented storyteller.
TONY RUSSELL, June 2004
Remastered in 2004 at Sound Performance.
(P) 1967 The Decca Record Co. Ltd.
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