Saturday, February 20, 2010

K.C. Douglas Mercury Blues and more

One thing about blues is that often a performer with modest talent is still capable of making moving music. One such gentleman was K.C. Douglas. Douglas, a Mississippi native born in 1913 near Jackson, moved to California to work in the Naval shipyards. Growing up he started playing music, first learning from an uncle, and then catch local musicians at Saturday Night getaways. At the same time he started listening to the records of Tommy Johnson whom K.C. met and played with him around 1940 in Jackson. Johnson’s music left its imprint that remained when K.C. moved to California.

After settling in California, he somehow ended up in Bob Geddins’ studios and recorded a song “Mercury Boogie” that was issued on Geddins’ Down Town label and became somewhat of a hit in the Bay area and parts of Texas and Louisiana. This song of course is better known by versions by the Steve Miller Band and Alan Jackson. Geddins though moved on from the downhome blues so it would be a few years before he would record again. At the very beginning of the folk revival he recorded for Cook and then two albums for Bluesville that were produced by Chris Strachwitz. In 1973 and 1974 Strachwitz assembled Douglas with a small group that included Richard Riggins on harmonica, Jim Marshall on drums and Ron Thompson on guitar. The result was an album on Arhoolie, “The Country Boy,” that subsequently has been issued on CD as “Mercury Blues,” with added unissued selections, including some from the early sixties that are solo or with an unidentified band.

The band here plays efficiently and supportively to Douglas’ heartfelt vocals and simple, rhythmic guitar playing. I know little about drummer Marshall. Riggins, who recorded as Harmonica Slim for Trix and Fedora, passed away few years ago while Thompson is still active in the blues world as a first-rate traditionally based multi-instrumentalist. His work on this recording as well with Little Willie Littlefield, Riggins and Schoolboy Cleve for the Blues Connoisseur label were amongst his earliest recordings who also spent several years with John Lee Hooker and Mick Fleetwood’s Blue Whale.

In any event, “Mercury Blues” is a solid unassuming but easily recommended recording of Mississippi blues performed by Douglas and his ensemble. There is a reworking of his “Mercury Boogie,” along with a nice rendition of “Catfish Blues,” and his original “Woke Up This Morning.” One of several recordings from the 1960s is the fervent “I’m Gonna Build a Web” is a solid, more modern, blues with an emphatic vocal and some nice piano and sax. Then there are three solo tracks including “Make Your Coffee, with some very adroit guitar. another 1960 solo performance, ”Night Shirt Blues,“ is an excellent original built around the ”Catfish Blues,“ and then followed by a fine rendition of Tommy Johnson’s ”Canned Heat Blues.“ Listening to these solo tracks are certainly going to encourage me to try to locate his Bluesville recordings which I believe were reissued as part of the Original Blues Classics series. These solo tracks are a bonus to the fine down home blues group heard here.

I won’t say that the music on ”Mercury Blues“ is essential to a blues collection, but it is strongly performed and delivered from the heart. The music here is certainly equal to anything produced by some of Douglas’ better known contemporaries from Mississippi such as Honeyboy Edwards and Son Thomas. I purchased this on sale from Arhoolie ( and I believe it is on sale (as I write this) at a bargain price but even at regular price is well worth it for folks who love real deal downhome blues.

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