My more recent epiphany that I alluded to last time came via some reviews in Nat Hentoff’s publication of some LPs on a label I’d never heard of before… Chess Records. The albums were “The Best of Muddy Waters”, “The Best of Little Walter”. And “Down and Out Blues” (Sonny Boy Williamson), artist names that meant nothing to me… they were not in Sam Charters’ book… but the reviews were so positive that I had order them unheard. Off to Perdue’s once again and a very long wait for their arrival there. But finally the call came and downtown I rode on my “English” bicycle to make my purchases and get back home. Putting them on my record player was an indescribable, gut-wrenching experience, but not at all in a negative way. It was totally foreign sounding to me, but also somehow appealing at the same time. I hated the pop music of the time, as well as early White rock & roll: that’s why I had gone into jazz in the first place! This shit was something else indeed. Continued listening opened up my ears and mind, and closed those of my father (“Jesus, all that stuff sounds the same! Noise.”). I soon obtained a copy of another Chess album, “Moaning at Midnight” by Howlin’ Wolf, and my life was truly never the same again. Nor were the lives of our close-by neighbors, as I tended to play that stuff LOUD! As one would.
By 1960 I was beginning my stint at college (university/UK and Oz) and I was beginning to get into New York City a bit. One of my favorite stops was the Sam Goody store on West 49th Street, for me a treasure-trove of great jazz LPs. With jazz people like Geoff Atterton, and Harry Lim (founder of Keynote Records) working there, I was well-guided in that realm. Those two were, to say the least, knowledgeable with regard to releases old and new. Geoff was especially helpful with me in guiding me through the possibilities. A Singaporean and a Pom! Such is the spread and popularity of jazz around the world. I was on my own regarding blues, though.
Once again, the magazines came through – one of them had a review of an LP on the Crown label by one B.B. King, a new name to me then. In retrospect, I can say that such a review was unexpected, for Crown was a real budget label for the Bihari brothers in L.A. – most LPs cost $3.98 at that time, with classical and some others at $4.98. Crowns were NOT found in your average record store, especially in northern, White NJ… Perdue tried! But, to get to Sam Goodys, I took the bus to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in the lower West 40’s, then took the 8th Avenue subway up to 50th Street. In my subterranean wanderings to get to the train, I passed an alcove/shop that had a couple of racks of budget albums and, lo and behold, there were quite a number of Crown releases for all of $1.98! I purchased a couple by this King fellow and later picked up ones by someone I had never heard of before (getting to be a pattern!). I suppose that the cover was some slight attraction, being a foxy chick* in a red dress partly perched on a bar-stool, but once on my turntable, I found it difficult to take off. All visual stimuli were forgotten, as I had discovered Elmore James for myself. He was emotional, he was visceral, and it sounded great played as loudly as possible! Nirvana had been attained at the age of eighteen or so!!
Besides such obviously soul-satisfying stuff as Elmore, I was soon to get “The Rural Blues”, an educational box set also on Folkways/RBF, something that Sam Charters had put together after his book’s publication. I was also beginning to subscribe to JAZZ JOURNAL, and JAZZ MONTHLY from the UK… I was well and truly hooked on jazz and blues. Somewhere along the line I also purchased “Rooster Blues” (Lightnin’ Slim), “Blues From the Gutter” (Champion Jack Dupree), and the first Jimmy Reed album on VeeJay, the one where he’s sitting on a large pouf/footstool in the photo on the back! By then I was moving farther afield from big bands, buying singles, listening to Black radio, and even going to shows at The Apollo Theater… but that’s another story.
* Apologies to Val Wilmer, a.o., but that was the unenlightened vocabulary of the time.
Peter B. Lowry
Published: BLUES & RHYTHM
At that point, I had a fair number of albums in my closet, with the blues catching up with the jazz in numbers. Summers, I packed up my “favorites” to go with me to the beach… along with a record player. Had to annoy those neighbors, too! Not allowed at school or college, though – radios in the latter were barely OK and that became my window into the music. Check out O&S # 29 for more on that.