Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Classic Blues Artwork From the 1920s - Vol. 13 from Blues Images

Some of you may be aware that not too long ago a collector purchased a Paramount 78 of legendary Mississippi blues performer Tommy Johnson for $37,000. That collector, John Tefteller, already had a copy of that 78, but the one he purchased was in better condition (he did sell the other 78). While Mr. Tefteller is a collector, he is not one who purchases such rare records to have as trophies. Rather, he gets them mastered using careful techniques for issuance on CDs that he produces that accompany a calendar of blues advertisements and photos of blues legends that he offers on a yearly basis. Now Available is "Classic Blues Artwork From the 1920s - Vol. 13," (Blues Images), which is subtitled "Special American Epic Edition."

American Epic is the name of an upcoming PBS television series and for it, a number of rare recordings of blues, country, cajun, Hawaiian, Native American and other music was remastered employing a most remarkable and costly technology to restore the rare recordings used. This technology is employed for the twenty performances on the accompanying CD. The actual Calendar is handsomely produced with a reproduction of an advertisement of a recording or a portrait of the artist for each month of the year and the first twelve recordings correspond to a graphic for a month. The remaining eight selections include some selections that may be the other side of a 78 along with two rare sides each by Hattie Hyde and J.D. Short. Each month's calendar includes selected holidays and birth and death dates of important blues artists.

For example, for January there is a reproduction of an advertisement that was issued to help sell Jim Jackson's "My Monday Blues," and one can read that Jackson "is the meanest moaner of the blues you've ever heard," while listening to the performance with a lyric that is a mix of "One Thin Dime Blues" and other traditional themes sung rather strongly against a somewhat rudimentary backing. A brief bio of Jackson is given at the bottom of the calendar page. There is some truly spectacular music including the great Blind Willie Johnson, "When the War Was On," with his driving accompaniment and gravelly shouting with his wife providing backing vocals. Not much is known of Charlie Kyle whose "Walking Blues" and "No Baby," was played on a twelve-string and sung in a clear and expressive manner. Included is a clear picture of Kyle and his guitar, probably taken at his sole recording session. Barbecue Bob's wonderful "Atlanta Moan" is the April recording with his picture accompanying a Columbia Records ad and his driving twelve-string playing (using a slide) and singing are top-flight.

For May, there is a portrait of the great Papa Charlie McCoy, shown holding a mandolin who is heard on a stunning mandolin rendition of (Pinetop's) "Boogie Woogie," vocal asides and all. Also on the CD is the other side, a marvelous "Country Guy Blues," again with stunning blues mandolin playing by this remarkable musician. June's music is the sublime vocal duet by Ruth Willis and another terrific Atlanta twelve-string player, Curley Weaver on the lovely "Some Cold Rainy Day," whose melody is similar to "Sitting on Top of the World." July brings us the guitar wizardry of Blind Blake on "Wabash Rag," with his superb finger-style playing and a vocal celebrating the famed Chicago avenue. August includes the ad for one of Blind Lemon Jefferson's most celebrated recordings "'Lectric Chair Blues"/"See That My Grave Is Kept Clean," and this writer can not believe he has ever heard Jefferson's high pitched singing or deft playing captured with such clarity.

September's ad is for Jed Davenport and His Beale Street Jug Band and "Beale Street Breakdown," is a spectacular, uninhibited instrumental romp with fiddle, harmonicas and driving rhythm. Not much is known about Spark Plug Smith, who it is suggested is named after cartoon character Barney Google's horse, Spark Plug. His performance, "Vampire Woman," is actually reference to a street walking woman (vamp being 1920s slang for one who takes a man from his wife). Ma Rainey is featured for November where "Georgia Cake Walk," which was the B-side to "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," and features a talking duet set against an early jazz accompaniment. The Calendar closes with a fiery sermon "The High Cost of Sin!" by Black Billy Sunday (Rev. Dr. J. Gordon).

Small image of representative month.
Also heard on the CD is another fiery sermon "Will You Spend Eternity In Hell," two vocals from a Memphis singer, Hattie Hyde, accompanied by the Memphis Jug Band, the afore-mentioned extra selections from Charlie Kyle, Charlie McCoy, and Blind Lemon Jefferson. The CD concludes with two phenomenal performances by J.D. Short, although they are the worst sounding recordings reproduced here as the original 78 was in terrible condition and is the onlylocated  copy of this 80 year recording. Despite the rough, distorted sound, one can still appreciate Short's brilliance as a guitarist and his singing. There are other reissues of his early recordings available and he was recorded as part of the blues rediscoveries in the 1960s. Placed at the end, it might be skipped by those who find a bit of surface noise acceptable. Those who have listened to some reissues of Skip James and Charlie Patton, with a scrambled eggs sound in the background, should have little problem enjoying his terrific music.

Kudos to John Tefteller and those who were involved in the production of "Classic Blues Artwork From the 1920s - Vol. 13." This will make a wonderful gift for the real blues lover this holiday season. This is available directly from Blue Images which also has previous years Calendars and CDs from previous Calendars, along with posters and t-shirts for sale. You can go their website, www.bluesimages.com, to order directly. This terrific Calendar and CD is also being sold through amazon, Alligator Records and other vendors.

I purchased this Calendar and CD from Blues Images. 

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