Down Home Blues • Chicago: Fine Boogie
If you are thinking about a gift for the blues lover in your life, this public domain 5 CD box set certainly is well worthy considering. With 134 songs from both famous and obscure blues performers, and an 88 page booklet with an overview of the post-war Chicago blues scene and the artists heard, along with a full sessionography, it provides over 6 hours of prime Chicago blues. The mastering is as good as one can expect with some of this material coming from rare acetates or 78s.
Musically, this compilation takes us from recordings in the relaxed band sound that some scholars termed “the Bluebird Beat,” to the more familiar impassioned ensemble blues of Mississippi natives Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Elmore James. Included are the earliest commercial recordings of Muddy Waters and Johnny Shines, that were not issued until a couple decades later. There are recordings from small independent labels like the Maxwell Street based Ora Nelle label with Johnny Young’s “Money Taking Woman,” the J.O.B. label with Johnny Shines’ “Ramblin’,” Old Swingmaster for Snooky & Moody’s “Keep what You Got,” Parrot with Dusty Brown’s “He Don’t Love You,” Cool Records with Billy Boy Arnold’s “Hello Stranger,” and more.
There are artists new to me such as Grey Haired Bill, Mildred White (who recorded at a session with Pete Franklin (with Tampa Red on piano), and ‘Blues Boy’ Bill, along with representative recordings of Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf, with some of these being alternate takes to those on 78s and 45s and only available on out-of-print album reissues on labels like Blues Classics, Nighthawk, Muskadine, Flyright and others. There are also rarities from Birmingham Jones, St. Louis Jimmy, Robert Nighthawk Albert King, Baby Face Leroy Foster, J.B. Hutto, Pete Franklin, Sunnyland Slim, Eddie Boyd, Memphis Minnie and Po’ Joe Williams (aka (Big Joe).
While not every one of the 134 songs is a blues classic, this collection is filled with so many gems as well as some entertaining selections that give an solid overview of early blues recording in Chicago. Add the 88 page booklet from Blues Scholar Mike Rowe, and this release is invaluable to lovers of Chicago blues. There is almost 6 and 1/2 hours of music on these five CDs which does not duplicate any of the selections on another reissue collection, the four-disc “Down Home Blues Classics Vol. 3:Chicago” on Boulevard Vintage) which is also highly recommended if you can find it.
I purchased this and it was originally submitted as a review for a Holiday issue of Jazz & Blues Report that was issued, but has appeared in the Jan-Feb 2018 issue (Issue 376). For a taste of some of the music, here is Dusty Brown's recording of "He Don't Love You,"
and Johnny Shines' JOB recording, "Ramblin'."