Friday, January 19, 2018
John Lee Curtis (Sonny Boy) Williamson was born near Jackson, Tennessee in 1914. He played harmonica starting with country blues before developing a unique urban blues. Singularly he developed the harmonica as a lead instrument influencing a large number of blues harmonica performers, including Billy Boy Arnold, Junior Wells, Sonny Terry, Little Walter, and Snooky Pryor among many others.
Sonny Boy Williamson became known as "the father of modern blues harp" and recorded "Good Morning, School Girl" in 1937. The very first recording of electric blues was released on the Bluebird record label and became a major hit on the 'race records' market.
Sonny Boy Williamson played with Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers in the mid-1940s and both artists recorded his songs.
By the end of the decade another blues harp player called Aleck/Alex "Rice" Miller, was using the stage name Sonny Boy Williamson. John Lee vehemently objected but no legal action was ever taken. Sonny Boy Williamson II was also a master of the John Lee's harmonica style but since "Rice” Miller had not as yet recorded under the stage name Sonny Boy Williamson there was little basis for a law suit. Both artists kept to separate parts of the US but after John Lee died in a mugging in 1948 Alex "Rice" Miller (aka Sonny Boy Williamson II) fell heir to the title Sonny Boy Williamson and became as well respected as his name sake among blues musicians.
Sonny Boy Williamson II early life is rather an enigma but it is thought he was born Aleck Ford, illegitimate son of Millie Ford (Miller) circa 1912. He was brought up with a strict religious background on the Sara Jones Plantation in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. The youngest of the family he was nicknamed "Rice" although was called “Sonny” too. He took his father's name Miller and when he was in his late teens travelled around Mississippi and Arkansas playing and preaching where ever he could. During this time he jammed with Big Joe Williams, Elmore James and Robert Lockwood, Jr. (aka Robert Junior Lockwood and step son of Robert Johnson).
He also associated with Robert Johnson during this time. "Rice" Miller had several names including Willie Williamson, Willie Miller, Little Boy Blue, The Goat and Footsie but "Rice" Miller always claimed he had been the first to use the stage name "Sonny Boy Williamson." In 1941 Miller and Lockwood were hired to play the King Biscuit Time show on radio station KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. During this time Miller appeared under the title Sonny Boy Williamson.
This may have been a deliberate attempt by the station to deceive listeners they were listening to the better known recording star, John Lee (Sonny Boy) Williamson. Many historians believe the ambiguity about "Rice" Miller's own birth date was part of the rouse to deceive. After the death of John Lee (Sonny Boy) Williamson, Miller was Sonny Boy Williamson and the King Biscuit Boys consisted of Pinetop Perkins, Joe Willie Wilkens, Peck Curtis, Robert Jr. Lockwood, and Dudlow Taylor.
Sonny Boy started his own KWEM radio show (1948 to 1950) and featured Elmore James, Houston Stackhouse, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, Robert Nighthawk, B. B. King and many others. Sonny Boy Williams II started recording in 1951 with Trumpet Records of Jackson, Mississippi. Four years later the company was bankrupt and taken over by Chess Records in Chicago. Sonny Boy had already built quite a fan base in the city having played in Elmore James's band.
During the Chess years (1955- 1964) he recorded over 70 songs. Sonny Boy Williamson's life becomes better documented after he comes to popular attention in the early sixties. By this time there was a resurgence of interest in American Negro (Folk) Blues and Sonny Boy features prominently as a concert performer.
Around this time he toured Europe with Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins, Lonnie Johnson, Sleepy John Estes, Big Joe Williams, Otis Spann and a select cast of blues legends. Sonny Boy Williamson was the acknowledged and revered star of the tour and dubbed "King of the Harmonica". He returned to UK and toured the college circuit with a very young Eric Clapton. The Yardbirds were his tour band.
During this time he met many of the would-be luminaries of the UK blues scene. He enjoyed his European fans and took to wearing a custom-made, two-tone suit with a bowler hat, matching umbrella, and an attaché case for his harmonicas.
On his return to the U.S., he resumed playing the King Biscuit Time show on KFFA, and performed around Helena, Arkansas. Sonny Boy Williamson died suddenly in his sleep in 1965.
Worth a listen
Sonny Boy Williamson
Shake the Boogie
You Better Cut that Out
Early in the Morning
My Little Machine (1951)
Goodmorning little school girl (1963)
Sonnyboy Williams II
Eyesight To The Blind (1951)
Mighty Long Time
Nine Below Zero (1962)
Too Close Together.
Don't Start Me Talkin'
Your Funeral and My Trial
Help me (1963)
Bring it on home (1963)
Elmore James (featuring Sonny Boy Williamson II)
Dust My Broom (1952)
John Mayall's Bluesbreakers
Checkin' Up On My Baby (1967)
Bring It on Home (1969)
Ten Years After
Help Me (1969)
Eyesight to the Blind (1969)
Thursday, January 18, 2018
The group was formed in the early 1950s at choir practice at St. Anthony of Padua school in the Bronx. The name Chantels came from a rival school, St. Frances de Chantal. Choir like, the girls had been taught to sing Gregorian chants and were perfect at changing notes and trading parts which gave them a unique close-knit harmony. The quintet did talent shows with the Sequins (Red Robin Records) and The Crows (Rama Records) at the PS. 60 Community Center and at St. Augustine's church. By 1957 the members, aged 14 through 17, had been singing together more than seven years. The group consisted of Arlene Smith (lead), Sonia Goring (second tenor), Rene Minus (alto/bass), Jackie Landry (second alto), and Lois Harris (first tenor) and they were discovered by Richard Barrett, (The Valentines) and signed to End Records. Their first professional live performance was at the Apollo Theatre where they wowed the audience with “He's Gone.” Later the single broke into the top 100 in the US in 1957.
Their second single "Maybe" had real acoustic atmosphere and was recorded in a refurbished church in midtown Manhattan. Richard Barrett co-wrote the song with Arlene Smith and also played piano on the recording. In 1958 it became a top twenty hit selling over one million copies.
. Barrett gave up singing to manage the Chantels but the record company dropped the Chantels in 1959 after their other records failed to make charts. Arlene and Louis left the group and Annette Smith (the Veneers) took over as lead in 1960. They signed with Carlton Records and had a huge hit with "Look in My Eyes."
Despite releasing many other singles the Chantels were never able to repeat their earlier success. Music tastes had changed and eventually the group broke up in 1970. Arlene Smith meantime worked with Phil Spector and recorded "Love Love Love (previously recorded by the Clovers).
After the breakup she formed a new Chantels line up and the remaining originals reformed with Noemi (Ami) Ortiz as lead. Both groups enjoyed some success on the retro circuit. Jackie Landry died in 1997. .
Worth a listen
He's Gone (1957)
Every Night (I Pray) (1958)
Sure of Love (1958)
I Love You So, (1958)
Whoever You Are (1958)
Memories of Nod' (1958)
Summer's Love (1959)
Look in My Eyes (1961)
Well I Told You (1961)
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
The Blossoms were based in LA and started in 1954 while still at high school. Then they were a sextet called the Dreamers and sang spirituals. The group was made up of Fanita Barrett, Gloria Jones, Jewel Cobbs, Pat Howard and twin sisters Annette and Nanette Williams. Richard Berry (singer) discovered them at a 1954 school talent show and took them on as backing singers. They appeared on several of his singles between 1954 and 1955 on the Flair label. Only "Bye, Bye" made the national R&B charts.
The Dreamers did have some chart success as backing singers with Jesse Belvin and ‘Good Rockin’ Daddy’ in 1955. By late 1956 the Dreamers were recording as a group. "Since You've Been Gone" and "Do Not Forget," were both written by Richard Berry and are now considered to be the forerunners of the girl group sound.
Fanita, Gloria and Annette also sang in The Rollettes making several recordings. When the group joined Capitol Records they became The Blossoms and between 1957 and 1958 released three singles but all failed to chart. Better success came again as backing singers on Ed Townsend’s “For Your Love".
In 1958, Darlene Wright (aka Darlene Love) replaced Annette and became the group’s lead singer. More chart success came when the Blossoms backed Sam Cook on "Everybody Love's to Cha-Cha-Cha" in 1959.
By 1960, the twins left and the group and there was now a trio. More Blossoms singles came but chart success failed to materialise. On the Challenge label, The Blossoms did eventually have a minor hit with "Son-In- Law' (#79) in 1961 and continued to work as backup singers with Duane Eddy (The Rebelettes) on "Dance with the Guitar Man" (1962).
In the same year Phil Spectre got the Blossoms and Bobby Sheen (high tenor) to sing a “He's a rebel” (written by Gene Pitney) and released the single under the name of The Crystals.
Spectre was in dispute with the group who refused to fly to LA and decided to record the new song without them. The single was a massive Number One hit in the US. Although The Blossoms were only paid a session fee, and never credited they did continue to work with him and even recorded a second Crystal’s single, "He's Sure the Boy I Love."(1963). It too charted.
Spectre renamed Darlene, and now called Darlene Love she and Fanita joined Bobby Sheen in a combo known as Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans. They had a few hit singles including a version of "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" (1962) before disappearing.
More success came when the girls sang with Shelley Fabares on "Johnny Angel" (1962) and with Doris Day on "Move Over, Darling" (1963).
It is more or less accepted The Blossoms probably sang on backup on most of the The Crystals and The Ronettes recordings including "Da Doo Run Run."
In 1966 the trio with Jean King (not Gloria Jones) became the resident backup singers on Shindig (ABC) and during 1964-1966 the group backed many of the performers.
In 1964 they released a single under the name The Wildcats but it went nowhere and two years later a series of singles by The Blossoms flopped. Throughout the late sixties and early 70s the group continued to record under their own name but despite label changes chart success failed to emerge. During this time they toured as backup singers with Elvis Presley then later with Tom Jones. In 1974 Darlene Love left the group to pursue a solo career and acting. Jean King died in 1983 but The Blossoms continued with Fanita and various line ups. Their last single which captures their original sweet sound was in 1989, entitled "Lonely Friday Night" and released on Classic Artists Records.
Worth a listen
Wait For Me
No Other Love (1958)
Write Me A Letter(1961)
Good, Good Lovin', (1966)
Lonely Friday Night (1989)
The Blossoms as backing singers with:
Good Rockin’ Daddy (1955).
For Your Love (1958)
Everybody Love's to Cha-Cha-Cha (1959)
Dance with the Guitar Man (1962).
Johnny Angel (1962)
Move Over, Darling (1963)
He's a rebel (1962)
He's Sure the Boy I Love (1963)
Da Doo Run Run (1963)
Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans
What Are You Gonna Do (1964)
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
The Farinas were a UK r'n'b outfit from Leicester and formed in 1962. The art school band consisted of John ‘Charlie” Whitney (guitar and keyboards), Ric Grech (bass and vocals), Harry Ovenall (drums) and Jim King (saxophone and harmonica). In 1965 Tim Kirchin replaced Ric Grech and Roger "bleating vibrato" Chapman joined the band as the lead vocalist. As a gimmick the band wore double breasted suits on stage and looked menacing like ‘mafia men’. At the suggestion of Kim Foley (US record producer), in 1966 they became Family (as in Mob) and played a hot mixture of rock'n''roll, folk, psychedelia, acid, jazz fusion. The band was very much in casual gear which suited their set.
"Scene Through The Eye Of A Lens/Gypsy Woman" was their first single in 1967 and was released on Liberty Records but did very little. Rob Townsend replaced Harry Ovenall on drums and in 1968 the band signed with the Reprise Records label. As was the trend for progressive rock acts they released an album called Music in a Doll's House (1968).
The album met with critical acclaim and DJ, John Peel (BBC) loved it and promoted it heavily bringing it to the attention of his radio audience. The album featured the sounds of several unusual instruments for a rock band and blended perfectly with the complex song arrangements sung superbly by Roger Chapman and complemented with John ‘Charlie” Whitney innovative guitar play. Music in a doll’s house would become a classic of UK psychedelic rock. Family became the toast of the British psychedelic/progressive "underground" circuit and toured extensively.
The follow up album Family Entertainment (1969) sold well and again help its own in the top 10 UK album charts. An ill-fated US tour followed during which time Ric Grech left to join Blind Faith.
He was replaced with John Weider (formerly of Eric Burdon and The Animals). Back luck followed the tour and as a result Family never was able to recover their reputation in the US. On return to the UK, the band performed with The Rolling Stones' at their free Hyde Park concert. They also featured at the Isle of Wight Festival. By the end of 1969, John Poli Palmer (keyboards and synthesizers) had replaced Jim King and they released their third studio album, A Song for Me.
More a blend of hard rock and folk rock the album went to number 4 in the UK album charts. The distinct change in style had more to do with the continuing changes in the band’s line up than following popular trends but it did suit the record buying audience. Family was by now a major attraction at festivals including a second appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival.
Dubbed one of the wildest, most innovative groups of the underground rock scene, on stage their performances were legendary. It has even been claimed the late, great Jimi Hendrix was in fear of following their set at festivals. Their fourth album, Anyway, sold well and reached # 7.
Line up chances continued and John Wetton replaced John Weider. Wetton shared vocals with Roger Chapman and the band's next single "In My Own Time/Seasons" reached # 4 in The UK singles chart and the album Fearless (1971) sold well in both the US and the UK.
By 1972 the band were playing more hard rock and released their Bandstand album.
John Wetton (King Crimson) and John "Poli" Palmer left the band in 1972 and were replaced by Jim Cregan, and Tony Ashton (Ashton, Gardner and Dyke) respectively. After a tour of Canada and the US which met with indifference they recorded their last album in 1973, soon after they broke up. Roger Chapman and John "Charlie" Whitney quickly formed the band (Chapman Whitney) Streetwalkers and signed to the Vertigo label. The band enjoyed some success in USA and Europe with their best works on the Red Card album (1976).
Like Family before them, Streetwalkers were well respected by music fans and the music press but changing musical taste at the end of the decade saw the band break up in 1977. Roger Chapman has continued with a solo career and released many albums including Hide and go seek (double album ) in 2009
Worth a listen
The Breeze (1968)
Peace Of Mind (1968)
Never Like This (1968)
The Weaver's Answer (1969)
In My Own Time/Seasons"
My Friend the Sun" ( 1973)
Parisienne High Heels
Burn it down
Roll up, Roll Up (1976)
Run for Cover (1976)
Monday, January 15, 2018
George Guy was born in 1936 in Lettsworth, Louisiana. His parents were sharecropper and he was one of five children raised on a plantation, 140 miles northwest of New Orleans. Aged seven Buddy learned to play the guitar on a homemade two string diddley bow. He was almost 17 before he owned his first guitar but by this time he had seen Guitar Slim.
Eddie "Guitar Slim" Jones was a New Orleans blues guitar player with a wild stage act. He wore bright-coloured suits and dyed his hair to match. Part of his stage act was to have an assistant follow him around the audience with up to 350 feet of cord between amplifier and guitar. Occasionally for effect he would get up on his assistant's shoulders, or take his guitar outside the club whilst playing and bring traffic to a stop. Young Buddy was determined to master the same showman techniques whilst sounding like BB King. He was all of thirteen years of age.
By the mid 50s Buddy started his professional career playing with bands in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Then in1957 he went to Chicago and quickly got work at the 708 Club. The money was not so good and an almost starving Buddy harboured thoughts of returning to Louisiana. He met Muddy ‘Mud’ Waters and the two musicians became great friends. In 1958 Buddy signed with Cobra Records, and then in 1959 he joined Chess Records. Guy was a first-call session man and worked with many if the blues greats including: Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Koko Taylor and many others. Despite his undoubted talent the musician was constrained as a session man and curtailed from improvisation.
This would frustrate Buddy but not lessen his joy in working with many of his heroes. Chess were reluctant to promote him as a solo artist believing his extrovert style too over the top to be commercially successful. As a live performer he was par excellent and his reputation soon caught the attention of the new wave UK rockers. In 1965 he toured the UK playing with his trio and his on stage antics such as playing the guitar with his feet, teeth, and one handed behind his back had the likes of Keith Richard, Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck in absolute awe.
Back in the USA, Guy continued to be held back whilst Chess continued not to promote him. In the mid-sixties he recorded sessions with Junior Wells for Delmark Records under the pseudonym Friendly Chap.
In 1967 Chess did release the album, "Left My Blues in San Francisco" but most of the songs were soul rather than blues.
The following year Buddy Guy left Chess. In 1969 he was back in the UK, this time on stage playing with many of his admirers. That included Jimmy Page (Led Zepplin), Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton among many others. In 1972 Buddy Guy and Junior Wells (mouthorgan and vocals) released Play the Blues album which was co-produced by Eric Clapton, Ahmet Ertegün and Tom Dowd.
The album is still regarded among the finest electric blues recordings of the modern era. Despite his influence on the emerging hard rock genre including Jimmy Hendrix and Angus Young (ACDC), Guy’s career declined over the next two decades. During these times blues men found it difficult to continue and many sadly left the music business. By the late 80’s Buddy Guy did not have a domestic record deal but then in 1990 Eric Clapton invited him to be part of his ‘24 Nights’ all-star blues guitar line up at the Royal Albert Hall.
Once rediscovered the guitarist signed for Silvertone Records and his first three albums ‘Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues’ (reissued in 2005), ‘Feels Like Rain’ and ‘Slippin’ In’ all sold very well.
Since the mid 90's the veteran bluesman has not looked back and become an international star in his own right. Buddy Guy remains a great showman and will frequently go walkabout into the audience on his cordless guitar. He loves to interact with his audience and entertains them with genius antics only a guitar maestro of his stature could perform. Guy’s guitar playing is still both loud and aggressive as he continues to play an eclectic mix of ‘roots’ blues, Chicago Blues, avant-garde rock, soul and free jazz.
Worth a listen
Wee wee baby (1963)
I Suffer With The Blues (1967)
She Suits Me To A Tee (1967)
Leave My Girl Alone (1967)
A man and the blues (1990)
I cannt quit the blues (1990)
Money (thats what I want) (1990)
Just playing my axe (1990)
Sweet home Chicago
Junior Wells (as Friendly Chap)
Goodmorning little schoolgirl (1965)
Hoodoo man blues (1965)
Buddy Guy and Junior Wells
A man of many words (1972 )
I don't know (1972)
Bad bad whiskey (1972)