Born in Tylertown, Mississippi in 1907, Jewell ‘Babe’ Stovall learned music from his brothers and other musicians near Tylertown and included songs from the church as well as string band traditions, and around 1930, the legendary Tommy Johnson came around Tylertown where he got the basis of Big Road Blues. Eventually he moved to New Orleans where he sang on the streets and based on Marc Ryan’s urging, was booked in Boston and Cambridge in 1965 where he and Ryan stayed with David Evans in Evans’ Harvard dorm room.
Evans contributed the liner notes to a new Arcola release of Stovall, The Old Ace, and notes that his repertoire is that of a songster. Included are some familiar blues and gospel numbers including Candy Man, Baby Let Me Follow You Down (which he learned from Bob Dylan but to which he added some traditional verses and Evans suggests also was influenced by Professor Longhair’s 1957 Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand), The Ship is At the Landing, and Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
There are renditions of Sonny Boy Williamson’s Good Morning Little School Girl, Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues and Leroy Carr’s How Long How Long Blues. Included are some interviews where he talks about family and playing in new Orleans and a medley of Tommy Johnson’s Big Road Blues with Careless Love, in which Johnson’s influence can be heard and felt. Bob West produced these recordings in New Orleans in 1968 and Stovall strongly played his National guitar and sang with verve although he was a bit hoarse for a latter session issued here.
Stovall was not exactly overecorded. Larry Borenstein recorded him in 1961 which was issued on Flyright on vinyl and I do not believe it has become available on cd. Also he recorded for Prestige Bluesville if I remember correctly. These are frankly as good of recordings as I heard him play and the accompanying booklet with Evans notes and some great pictures, including one of him playing with the guitar over his head makes for a most enjoyable set of down home acoustic blues like you do not hear anymore.
This review originally appeared in the May-June 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 282). I believe I purchased this CD which should still be readily available. One can check www.arcolarecords.com.