Monday, May 14, 2012

Strong Recorded Memories of William Clarke's Early Years

The following review appeared in the September/October 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 286) and is another of older reviews (slightly revised) that I believe is forth sharing several years later. William Clarke was one of my favorite blues performers and person. I had a chance to talk and chat with him pretty much every time I saw him perform and he loved talking about blues as much as playing it. He was also someone who sounded different every time I saw him depending on his mood and what inspired him that day. We should be grateful for his widow Jeannette Clarke-Lodovici who still continue to keep his legacy alive. I recommend his Alligator releases of course, but the previously unissued and reissued Watchdog releases are generally excellent as well. I had purchased these and they are still available.

It’s been way too long since William Clarke passed away. While his Alligator recordings are central to his recorded legacy, his widow, Jeannette Clarke-Lodovici continues to supplement that body of music with previously unissued recordings. Two volumes of Clarke’s The Early Years, have been issued on Watchdog Records, and will certainly be of considerable interest to fans of Clarke, modern blues harp and the West Coast mix of jump and Chicago blues.

Clarke certainly sang with as much authority and conviction as he played the harmonica with his big fat tone (on regular harp as well as on chromatic harmonica), showing the influence of his mentor, the late George ‘Harmonica’ Smith. Smith is heard on both of the two volumes with playing on a terrific untitled slow blues on Volume 2, while Clarke’s harp is heard behind Smith’s vocal on Teenage Girl on Volume 1. Others who make guest appearances here include Smokey Wilson on Fine Little Mama on Volume 1 and Johnny Dyer on Volume 2.

A bonus on Volume 1 is the presence of Hollywood Fats on six tracks including Clarke’s easy rocking instrumental in the vein of Off the Wall, Hittin’ Heavy, the slow midnight after hours feel of a feature for his chromatic playing, Blues Afterwhile, as well as the imaginative rearrangement of Sonny Boy Williamson II’s Keep It To Yourself, set to the Help Me/Green Onions melody. Volume 2 sports his interpretation of Louis Jordan’s Early in the Morning, and his strong singing on The Feeling’s Gone, and Bloody Tears on My Pillow. Clarke was superb, not simply as a singer and harp player, but also was a fabulous songwriter.

These latest two posthumous discs are more than welcome additions to the available recordings by Clarke. The both contain a number of superb performances. The only quibble is the CD packaging could be printed a bit more sharply, but the music is wonderful. This is available from as well as and other mail order specialists.

Here is a little clip of William Clarke performing.

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