Monday, January 09, 2012

Big Joe Turner's Birthday Boogie Woogie Jubilee With Axel Zwingenberger

I have many fond memories of the late Big Joe Turner, one of the greatest blues shouters of all time. I had the honor to emcee Big Joe and Lloyd Glenn at Buffalo’s Tralfamadore Cafe in 1977 and saw him a number of times in New York whether at the Lone Star, Trammps or Fat Tuesday’s. In the 1970s he became acquainted with a young German pianist Axel Zwingenberger who played boogie woogie in the manner of the boogie woogie legends Pete Johnson (with whom Turner sang with in Kansas City, New York and Los Angeles), Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. Zwingenberger is still around and one of a number of individuals throughout the world still playing classic boogie woogie, showing his deep appreciation for the greats of the idiom while displaying his own touch.

Boogie Woogie Jubilee is among the albums that Big Joe and Axel recorded together and currently available on Vagabond Records. It was recorded on May 1981 at Big Joe Turner’s Los Angeles home with the legendary jump blues band leader sitting in on drums. This is a wonderful informal house party recording and the occasion of this back yard party was Joe Turner’s 70th Birthday Party. And after Joe makes a comment to his friends, Axel launches into some Albert Ammons inspired boogie woogie before Joe shouts Hide and Seek Boogie, bringing together of some traditional blues verses and asking the audience “are you ready.” Audience claps reinforce Roy Milton’s steady drumming that helps propel Zwingenberger’s boogie woogie piano as well as Big Joe’s singing.

Big Joe generally was in terrific voice that afternoon. He sounds at times even stronger than as on of his contemporaneous recordings for Pablo and other labels. There are takes on some of the songs most associated with Turner such as Chains Of Love, Flip, Flop & Fly, Cherry Red, and Piney Brown Blues, wonderfully delivered with the strong, sympathetic accompaniment. And one can hear the audience enjoying these performances. The highpoint might be the title track, an extended vocal jam between Turner, Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson and Margie Evans and Cleanhead wishes Big Joe ‘Happy Birthday’ during his vocal here. There is one boogie woogie piano instrumental, California Crawl, that places Zwingenberger’s marvelous piano in the fore front as he conjures up Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons.

Boogie Woogie Jubilee is a superb album with outstanding blues vocals and marvelous boogie woogie piano. I also recommend a studio recording by Big Joe and Axel, Let’s Boogie Woogie All Night Long, from a few years earlier, where Axel’s brother Torsten handles the drums which Johnny Otis engineered, and another disc has him with Lionel Hampton. Recent albums has him in a trio with Charlie Watts on drums and accompanying Albert Ammons granddaughter. I will be giving my thoughts on some of these other albums by Axel in future blogs.

I purchased this and several other albums by Axel directly from him at his website,, and hear some clips from the recordings. Some may be available from third party sellers in the United States.

Here is Axel with Charlie Watts on Jools Holland's program Later, that includes a clip of boogie woogie classics. Then a video of Big Joe Turner from the American Folk Blues Festival in 1966.

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