CD Reissue Notes:
That Decca Records became THE major blues label of the 1960's is basically down to the exhaustive efforts and enthusiasm of one man: Mike Vernon.
Having joined the Artists & Repertoire Department of the company in November 1963 in a minor capacity, he progressively worked on his seniors until given the go ahead to produce his first album, interestingly enough by one of the acts featured here: Curtis Jones.
From this modest beginning he was eventually able to lure several 'name' Stateside blues men to 'The Supreme Record Company's' then head offices on London's Albert Embankment, for the purpose of inking a recording contract, and thereafter driving them to West Hampstead - Decca's studio complex. Simultaneously, his was the influence which convinced some of Britain's finest home-grown exponents of the genre to follow a similar course.
This package, aptly titled RAW BLUES, was assembled by Mike and issued on Decca's subsidiary 'Ace Of Clubs' label in January 1967 (ACL (Mono)/SCL (Stereo) 1220). An intriguing collection of artifacts, its welter of big name participants may now be appreciated through the sophisticated medium of sound which is a compact disc. The technology may be smoother these days, but the blues remain as raw as ever...
A few details about the contents and its protagonists wouldn't go amiss:
Born Jackson, Mississippi, on 21st March 1930, Otis Spann shared his parents affections with two brothers and two sisters. Product of a musically inclined family, his father Frank Euston Spann played piano and mother Josephine was formerly a guitarist with Memphis Minnie, a top vocalist who knew a good picker when she heard one, having married another Jackson six-string resident, Joe McCoy (Kansas Joe). Not surprisingly, Otis took to music like a duck to water, adopting piano as his chosen instrument. Largely self-taught, in later life he always acknowledged the influence Big Maceo Merriweather had upon his style. Gaining confidence as a result of forming a small band with some other local juveniles, when he heard about a neighbourhood talent competition happening at the Alamo Theatre he entered and won - as a singer - performing Coot Davis' FOUR O'CLOCK BLUES. With the passing years he pursued medical studies at Jackson's Campbell College in the hope of becoming a doctor. When not buried in textbooks, he displayed a sporting prowess at boxing and football, briefly even turning professional at the latter. Between 1946 and '51 the U.S. Army called upon his time, but after discharge he relinquished all thoughts of any other occupation than music and moved to Chicago. The rest of the family had domiciled themselves there two years earlier, when mother died. Swiftly contacted by Muddy Waters, Otis joined the great guitarist/vocalist and stayed with his outfit for many years thereafter, although between 1952 and the time of this recording he'd also supplied studio accompaniment for such legends as Chuck Berry, Howlln' Wolf, Bo Dlddley and Lowell Fulson. Visiting Britain in May 1964 for a tour, our subject recorded an acclaimed Decca LP: THE BLUES OF OTIS SPANN (LK 4615). Included here are the four additional cuts from that London session of May 4th: PRETTY GIRLS EVERYWHERE (a), MY HOME IN THE DESERT and the McKinley Morganfield (alias Muddy Waters) duo COUNTRY BOY and YOU'RE GONNA NEED MY HELP. Personnel: Otis Spann (Vocal, Piano); 'Brother' (Guitar); Ransom Knowling (Bass); Little Willie Smith (Drums); add Eric Clapton (Gtr.) on (a) only.
Further south In New Orleans, seaport metropolis of Louisiana, on Independence Day 1910, was born William Thomas 'Champion Jack' Dupree. His father was French, while mother was a descendant of the Cherokee Indian tribe. Tragically, both were killed when the family home burnt down during his seventh year. After spending the next seven cooped up in an Institution he ran away, but not before he'd mastered the basics of singing and playing piano. Thereafter he maintained his existence by thumping the untuned pianos of seedy clubs and houses of ill-repute, acquiring the technique known as 'Barrelhouse' playing thanks to prominent exponent of the art Willie Hall, otherwise billed as Drive 'em Down. The Depression found our subject attempting to make ends meet by taking up boxing - whence 'Champion Jack' - but by the mid-Thirties he'd joined forces with Cotton Club keyboarder Leroy Carr. Upon the latter's early death Jack was offered the unfortunate vacancy, which he accepted. In 1940 the Okeh label added him to their roster; it was the first of a multitude of labels great and small to do so over the next thirty years, including King - where he notched a big hit on the R 'n' B charts, WALKING THE BLUES, in 1955 - and Atlantic. As blues music gained European popularity through the Fifties, many big names were lured from America to tour and occasionally record as a bonus. Big Bill Broonzy was instrumental in persuading Dupree to take the plunge, and he liked it so much that by 1960 he'd married an English girl half his age and settled in Zurich, Switzerland. From here he was able to commute around Europe, finding appreciative audiences for his set which at that time still included some dance routines - early in his career he'd worked in vaudeville performing the tap variety. By 1965 he was living in and working out of Denmark's capital, and the following February Mike Vernon signed him to a three album deal for Decca. The first of these, FROM NEW ORLEANS TO CHICAGO (LK 4747), hit the shops in April, and included here are the two tracks from those sessions which were omitted through lack of space: CALCUTTA BLUES (a) and the Eddie Boyd penned 24 HOURS. Backed by an all-star British group, the line-up was Champion Jack Dupree (Vcl., Pno.); John Mayall (Harmonica); Tony McPhee (Gtr.); Malcolm Pool (Bass); Keef Hartley (Dr.); add Eric Clapton (Gtr.) on (a) only.
Son of Agnes Logan and Willie Jones, sharecropping residents of Naples, Texas, Curtis Jones announced his arrival on August 18th 1906. Early loss of life for a variety of reasons was not uncommon amongst the poor, and father alone had to raise the family by the time his offspring was six. Within a couple of years the youngster was helping out in the fields and subjected to the work songs of his fellow toilers. After early experiments on guitar, he switched to piano; age-wise he'd reached double figures and had moved to Dallas. Living from hand to mouth by playing the dives, Jones learned some valuable lessons in his late teens from a flexible pacting with noted Dallas pianist Whistling Alex Moore, and even recorded with him, but as money was scarce and prohibition in force, he organised a little set-up which earned him a seven week jail sentence. Upon release he received an 'invitation' to settle elsewhere. Bitten by wanderlust, he moved around frequently until after assembling a group in Chicago around 1936 he decided to stay put. They collected some worthwhile bookings, and the following year a disc contract with Vocalion. Personal happiness was not to be though, as his wife Lula (nee Stigers) had recently sought pastures new. Ironically, his depressing recorded anthem to her departure, the heartfelt LONESOME BEDROOM BLUES, became a best-seller. The advent of World War Two effectively demised his wax career, causing him to resort to taking a variety of jobs outside the music industry, and with the exception of a handful of titles for Parrot in the early Fifties, it was the best part of two decades before he was preserved for posterity on vinyl once more. Throughout this period he was frequently down on his luck, but played club dates whenever offered. The gradual upturn in his fortunes began when he was tracked down by French blues connoisseur Jacques Demetre, hoping for an interview. The resultant enthusiasm sparked a contract with Prestige-Bluesville which yielded the TROUBLE BLUES album; additionally he acquired a club residency and two years later issued a further LP under the Delmark logo. With encouragement from Champion Jack Dupree, he moved to Europe and based himself in Paris. After touring Britain on the same bill as Chris Barber earlier in 1963, November 27th and 28th found him ensconced in West Hampstead to record the album CURTIS JONES IN LONDON (LK 4587) under Vernon's watchful eye. It was released in May '64. Showcased here are the two extra tracks not included on that package, YOU GOT GOOD BUSINESS and ROLL ME OVER. The former has Jones (Vcl., Pno.) accompanied by twin guitars, whilst on the latter Alexis Korner (Gtr.); Jack Fallon (Bass) and Eddie Taylor (Dr.) are evident. With a respectable resurgence of public interest in his work continuing, while performing in Germany during the early seventies he sadly suffered a coronary and died, only to be buried in a pauper's grave.
Now deservedly billed as 'The Father Of British Blues', John Mayall is rightly predominant on this collection. As one of the handful of pioneers responsible for popularizing the style in the U.K., his contribution cannot be overstated. The Bluesbreakers became a veritable 'nursery' for so many future stars in their formative years, and amongst the home grown contingent on display here are some of the finest.
Of his two solo billings, the impassioned BURN OUT YOUR BLIND EYES and MILKMAN STRUT, this second title prevailed, according to Vernon's original album sleeve note, when the daily delivery to the studios saw the dairy employee wander in mid-way through a 'take', deposit his crate, and nonchalantly walk out slamming the door behind him...
Of John's pairing with organist Steve Anglo, it may now be revealed that for Anglo read Winwood. Owing to contractual obligations elsewhere he could not appear under his true identity when the album was published. Rhythm section duties on LONG NIGHT belonged to then Bluesbreakers' members John McVie (Bass) and drummer Aynsley Dunbar.
The Mayall and Clapton liaisons here, John's LONELY YEARS and Eric's instrumental BERNARD JENKINS, were cut at Mike's instigation and originally issued as a back-to-back limited edition 45 on his own Purdah label. Dating from the period between the players' joint collaborations under contract to firstly Andrew Oldham's Immediate company and then Decca, (BLUESBREAKERS era), both were committed through a single microphone in the middle of the capital's Wessex Studios in Soho, hence the unusual sound.
At the time of its taping, Peter Green had recently been recruited to the Mayall ranks as Eric's axe wielding replacement. On his own composition, EVIL WOMAN BLUES, he displayed a mature prowess at both playing and singing despite his relative lack of experience. In time, of course, he formed Fleetwood Mac, but that's another story...
Legendary purveyors of the blues from both sides of the Atlantic are gathered together in this one historical little collocation. We all owe grateful thanks to Mike Vernon for making it possible. Why wait? Just play on...
(C) John Tracy
(P) 1967 (C) 1987 The Decca Record Co. Ltd., London, England
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