Saturday, January 22, 2011

Whistlin' Alex Moore's Texas Blues and Barrelhouse Piano

One of the many blues discoveries of the sixties, pianist Whistlin’ Alex Moore had recorded for Columbia and Decca in 1929 and 1937 respectively. Modern/RPM recorded him in 1951 (some 1948 recordings were unissued at the time) before Chris Strachwitz recorded him in 1960 for Arhoolie Records. leading him to play clubs and festivals including the Amercian Folk Blues Festival in 1969 which also included Magic Sam, Earl Hooker, John Jackson, and Clifton Chenier. While in Europe he recorded in Stuggart, germany which was issued as “Live in Europe.” In 1987, Moore was granted a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, becoming the first African American Texan to receive such an honor. (Wikipedia is the source for this statement). Later he recorded an album for Rounder before passing in 1989 at the age of 90. Arhoolie Records still has in print the fine From North Dallas To The East Side, which is available from Arhoolie’s website. It is available as a download from itunes or amazon. I reviewed it back in the September 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 204) which I now share with you.

The late Alex Moore was born in 1899 and died in 1989, not too long after Rounder issued his final album. The Texas blues and barrelhouse pianist recorded back in the twenties and thirties, including several accompaniments. Growing up at a time when ragtime and stride influences were reflected in many piano blues recordings, his earliest waxings (available on Document) reflect a thoughtful artist, but rarely have him busting loose with fast boogie woogie runs.

He was located by Paul Oliver and Chris Strachwitz in the summer of 1960, and the album of the recordings made back then was one of the earlier Arhoolie albums. It is reproduced here along with eight recordings from a 1947 session and two others made during the famous 1969 American Folk Blues Festival Tour. The full range of his repertoire is explored here, including several adrenalin pumping uptempo numbers, such as the opening Whistling Alex Moore Blues, which display his penchant for boogie woogie. His salty, husky vocals are matched by his firm and imaginative playing. The pinnacle of this release is the 1947 tracks that include the spectacular Alex’s Rag with its stride and ragtime touches. These were not titled on the original acetate discs so Chris Strachwitz has given them titles, and a slightly younger Moore (he wasn’t quite 50 then) is reflected by the vigor in his singing and playing. Even in the two 1969 European recordings there is no tentativeness in the piano, and there is plenty of grit in the singing.

Moore’s songs also reveal him as a blues poet of note and this is the best distillation of his contributions as one of the great early Texas blues pianists.

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