Sunday, September 18, 2011

Blues Before Sunrise's Enlightening Blues Interviews

Blues Before Sunrise: The Radio Interviews
Steve Cushing
2010: University of Illinois

Steve Cushing hosts a long-running, syndicated blues radio program. "Blues Before Sunrise" on WBEZ on Chicago and he has compiled a collection of interviews on that program that should be of interest to anyone interested in the blues. What sets this book of interviews apart is that he does not focus on persons that were household names or written about extensively. What is valuable also is the depth that many of the interviews here are in the fashion of some of the interviews that were in living Blues in that publication's glory days. There is a common format to each of interviews as Cushing discusses the circumstances of how the interviews took place.

This book is divided into three parts. The first is entitled "Ancient Age" and includes interviews with Yank Rachell, Jesse Thomas, Alberta Hunter and The Grey Ghost. There is insight about their personalities as well as their career. Rachell provides insights on John Estes, Sonny Boy Williamson I, as well as his own style. Alberta Hunter's has her talk about some of her associates and some of the facts of her career while Jesse Thomas talks about T-Bone (and how T-Bone got some guitar stuff from him), Lloyd Glenn and his various recordings, both pre-war and post-war. Pianist Grey Ghost was part of a vibrant Texas piano blues tradition and reminiscences about life and some of his contemporaries. Neither Thomas not The Grey Ghost are presented extensively in interviews (my friend Eleanor Ellis did do one with Thomas) so having these available are invaluable.

Part Two is entitled "Postwar Glory" and has lengthy interviews with John and Grace Brim, Jody Williams. Rev. Johnny Williams and Little Hudson. Of these Jody Williams revived his musical career in the past several years, while the Brims provide insight into the scene in Gary, as well as a recording career that took them to Detroit with Big maceo and Chicago where they did sides with Little Walter. Jody Williams is among the most significant blues guitarists though was disgusted by the industry after he was ripped off of composer credits for "Love Is Strange." He chronicles his time with Howlin' Wolf and Bo Diddley here as well as his own choice recordings. With the late blues mandolinist/guitarist, Johnny Williams made among the earliest recordings in the post-war Chicago scene and provided recollections of numerous artists on the scene. Little Hudson is among a number of artists like Big Boy Spires and Moody Jones who made some memorable recordings but never became big names.

Part 3 is entitled "Esoterica" and has interviews with Tommy brown, Ralph Bass, Cadillac Baby and Richard Stamz. Tommy brown is still with us and regales Cushing and us with a flamboyant story of his career as a blues shouter, comedian and more. There are some tall tales as represented by a claim to have spoken with Otis Redding the night before he died. The problem with this is Brown claims Redding came to the DeLisa to see him, but Redding performed in Leo's Casino in Cleveland before taking his fatal flight. Brown is not the only interviewee who has embellished his career, and while one can appreciate his music, some of his claims here may be overstated. Ralph Bass discusses his lengthy career in recording and while I was familiar with his time with King Records, I was unaware of his prior stint at Black & White and his role with "Open The Door Richard," as well as recording T-Bone Walker, Jack McVea and Helen Humes. Cadillac Baby was another character detailing his club and recoding activities while Stamz was a very popular Chicago radio host I was totally unfamiliar with.

Living Blues Co-Founder Jim O'Neal provides a cogent foreword to the interviews here. Cushing concludes the book with a brief history of the radio show and how it has changed from the early days when he conducted it live he developed a relationship with many of his listeners and how syndication and time has changed aspects of this. It is the coda on a fascinating selection of interviews. One wonders what other interviews Steve might have included.  One might only hope sales of this would encourage a follow-up volume. "Before Sunrise: The Radio Interviews" is highly recommended.

I purchased my copy.

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