ACOUSTIC BLUES: The Roots of it All                                                                                          The Definitive Collection Vol. 1-4                                                                                                 Bear Family BCD 17229 – 17232 BS

Vol. 1; Disc 1 – The 1920s: SYLVESTER WEAVER: Guitar Blues (sic); PAPA CHARLIE JACKSON: Shake That Thing; LONNIE JOHNSON: Mr. Johnson’s Blues; BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON: Match Box Blues; BARBECUE BOB: Mississippi Heavy Water Blues; FURRY LEWIS: Billy Lyons and Stack O’Lee; JIM JACKSON: Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues – Pt. 1; BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON: Dark Was the Night – Cold Was the Ground; FRANK STOKES: Downtown Blues; MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT: Frankie; RAMBLIN’ THOMAS: So Lonesome; RUBE LACY: Ham Hound Crave; HENRY THOMAS: Bull Doze Blues: SCRAPPER BLACKWELL: Kokomo Blues; TOMMY JOHNSON: Canned Heat Blues; ISHMAN BRACEY: The Four Day Blues; BLIND WILLIE McTELL: Statesboro Blues; CURLEY WEAVER: No No Blues; HAMBONE WILLIE NEWBERN: Roll and Tumble Blues; HENRY SPALDING: Cairo Blues; CHARLEY PATTON: Pony Blues; KANSAS JOE & MEMPHIS MINNIE: When the Levee Breaks; LITTLE HAT JONES: Little Hat Blues; BLIND BLAKE: Diddie Wa Diddie; CHARLIE McCOY: Last Time Blues; ROBERT WILKINS: That’s’No Way to Get Along; HENRY TOWNSEND: Henry’s Worry Blues; CLIFFORD GIBSON: Ice & Snow Blues; BLIND JOE REYNOLDS: Outside Woman Blues.

Disc 2 – The 1930s: MISSIPPI SHEIKS: Sitting On Top of the World; GARFIELD AKERS: Dough Roller Blues; SON HOUSE: My Black Mama – Part 1; WILLIE BROWN: M&O Blues; CHARLEY JORDAN: Stack O’ Dollars Blues; ‘FUNNY PAPER’ SMITH: Howling Wolf Blues – No. 1; SKIP JAMES: I’m So Glad; KING SOLOMON HILL: Times Has Done Got Hard; BIG BILL (Broonzy): Long Tall Mama; JOSHUA WHITE: Good Gal; TAMPA RED: Black Angel Blues; LEAD BELLY: Midnight Special; MEMPHIS MINNIE: Chickasaw Train Blues (Low Down Dirty Thing); KOKOMO ARNOLD: Milk Cow Blues; JOHNNIE TEMPLE: Lead Pencil Blues (It Just Won’t Write); SLEEPY JOHN ESTES: Someday Baby Blues; BLIND GARY (Davis): Cross & Evil Woman Blues; BLIND BOY FULLER: Rag, Mama, Rag; CARL MARTIN: Crow Jane; JOE WILLIAMS WASHBOARD BLUES SINGERS: Baby Please Don’t Go; CASEY BILL: Somebody Changed the Lock on My Door; OSCAR WOODS: Lone Wolf Blues; ROBERT JOHNSON: Cross Road Blues; BLACK ACE: Black Ace; ROBERT LEE McCOY: Prowling Night-Hawk; BUKKA WHITE: Shake ‘Em On Down; BO CARTER: Old Devil; SISTER ROSETTA THARPE: This Train; TOMMY McCLENNAN: Bottle It Up & Go.

Vol. 2; Disc 1 – the 1940s: JOE WILLIAMS: Crawlin’ King Snake; ROBERT PETWAY: Catfish Blues; BROWNIE McGHEE (Blind Boy Fuller #2): Step It Up & Go #2; TONY HOLLINS: Cross Cut Saw Blues; ROBERT LOCKWOOD: Black Spider Blues; McKINLEY MORGANFIELD (Muddy Waters): I Be’s Troubled; ARTHUR “BIG BOY” CRUDUP: If I Get Lucky; BUDDY MOSS: Unfinished Business; WILLIAM BROWN: Mississippi Blues; DAVID EDWARDS: Water Coast Blues; CABRIEL BROWN: Stick With Me; JOHNNY SHINES: Evil-Hearted Woman Blues; LIGHTNIN’ HOPKINS: Katie Mae Blues; JOSH WHITE: Evil Hearted Man; OTHUM BROWN/LITTLE WALTER J: Ora-Nelle Blues; JOHNNY YOUNG: Money Taking Woman; LITTLE BOY FULLER (Richard Trice): Blood Red River Blues; THE BACK PORCH BOYS: Sweet Woman Blues; STICK McGHEE & HIS BUDDY: Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee; FRANKIE LEE SIMS & HIS GUITAR TRIO: Single Man Blues; K.C. DOUGLAS TRIO: Mercury Boogie: LOWELL FULSON: The Blues Is Killing Me; ALABAMA SLIM: Boar Hog Blues; SYLVESTER COTTON & HIS GUITAR: Ugly Woman Blues; PINE TOP SLIM & HIS GUITAR: Applejack Boogie; WILLIE LANE (Little Brother): Prowlin’ Ground Hog; DAN PICKETT: Ride To A Funeral in a V8.

Disc 2 – the 1950s: DENNIS McMILLON: Paper Wooden Daddy; MANNY NICHOLS & HIS GUITAR: Walking Talking Blues; JOHNNY BECK (The Blind Boy): You Gotta Lay Down Mamma; JAMES TISDOM: Model T Boogie; LAWYER HOUSTON: Dallas Be-Bop Blues; LITTLE DAVID (Wylie): You’re Gonna Weep & Moan; “PIG ‘n’ WHISTLE RED” (McTell): Talkin’ To You Mama; LIL’ SON JACKSON: Ticket Agent Blues; LUTHER HUFF: 1951 Blues; THE LARKS: Eyesight to the Blind; LUTHER STONEHAM & HIS GUITAR: January 11, 1949 Blues; WILLIAM “Talking Boy” STEWART: They Call Me Talking Boy; NAT TERRY: Take It Easy Baby; JOHN LEE: Down At The Depot; JULIUS KING: If You See My Lover; DOUG QUATTLEBAUM: Don’t Be Funny Baby!; SISTER O.M. TERRELL: I’m Going to the City; JIMMY & WALTER: Before Long; JESSE THOMAS: Gonna Move to California; BIG SON TILLIS/D.C. BENDER: Rocks Is My Pillow; JESSE FULLER: San Francisco Bay Blues; LICK, SLICK & SLIDE: I Love My Baby; DOCTOR ROSS: Industrial Boogie; BIG BILL BROONZY: Willie Mae Blues; ELIZABETH COTTON: Freight Train; SNOOKS EAGLIN: See See Rider; JOHN LEE HOOKER: Burnin’ Hell; MISSISSIPPI FRED McDOWELL: Keep Your Lamp Trimmed & Burning.

Vol. 3; Disc I – The 1960s: MANCE LIPSCOMB: Shake, Shake, Mama; JOHN LEE HOOKER: Tupelo; REV. GARY DAVIS: Sampson & Delilah; ROBERT PETE WILLIAMS: I’ve Grown So Ugly; LIGHTNIN’ HOPKINS: Mojo Hand; LONNIE JOHNSON: Moaning Blues; SMOKY BABE: Hottest Brand Goin’; HERMAN E. JOHNSON: I Just Keeps On Wanting You; SCRAPPER BLACKWELL: Shady Lane; PINK ANDERSON: I Got Mine; PETE FRANKLIN: Prison Bound; SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Bye Bye Blues; ROBERT CURTIS SMITH: Please Don’t Drive Me Away; MEMPHIS WILLIE B. (Borum): Wine Drinking Woman; BABY TATE: What Have I Done To You; LEROY DALLAS: She Caught the M&O; SLEEPY JOHN ESTES: Vernita’s Blues; J.D. SHORT: I’m Just Wastin’ My Time; MUDDY WATERS: Feel Like Goin’ Home; BUDDY MOSS: Amy (Mamie); JOHNNY YOUNG: Want My Lovin’; ARVELLA GREY: Corrine, Corrina; MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT: Candy Man; MAXWELL STREET JIMMY DAVIS: Alberta.

Disc 2 – The 1970s: SON HOUSE: Empire Express Limited; MISSISSIPPE FRED McDOWELL: Frisco Lines; J.B. LENOIR: If I Get Lucky; SKIP JAMES: Sickbed Blues; R.L. BURNSIDE: Long Haired Doney; FURRY LEWIS: Old Original Furry Lewis Blues; JOE CALICOTT: Lonesome Katy Blues; JOHN JACKSON: Rocks & Gravel; BABE STOVALL: Worried Blues; HOWLIN’ WOLF: Ain’t Goin’ Down That Dirt Road #2; LARRY JOHNSON: Four Women Blues; JACK OWENS: I Love My Baby; JOHNNIE SHINES: Your Troubles Can’t Be Like Mine; BROWNIE McGHEE: My Last Suit; JUKE BOY BONNER: Tired of the Greyhound Bus; TARHEEL SLIM: So Sweet, So Sweet; TOM SHAW: Baby Be a Boy Child Named Him After Me; EDDIE TAYLOR: Bullcow Blues; BILL WILLIAMS: Salty Dog; GUITAR SHORTY (Fortescue): Jessie Jones; REV. PEARLY BROWN: It’s a Mean Old World To Try and Live In; LOUISIANA RED: Dead Stray Dog; DAVID “Honeyboy” EDWARDS: Big Fat Mama; HENRY TOWNSEND: Can’t You See.

Vol. 4; Disc 1 – The 1980s & 1990s: ARCHIE EDWARDS: The Road is Rough & Rocky; GUITAR FRANK (Hovington): Lonesome Road Blues; GUITAR SLIM (Stephenson): I’m Feelin’ Lonesome; SAM CHATMON: Sam’s Blues; BOOGIE BILL WEBB: Big Road Blues; ARZO YOUNGBLOOD: Bye Bye Blues; BOWLING GREEN JOHN CEPHAS: Reno Factory; EUGENE POWELL: Worried Blues; ALBERT MACON & ROBERT ‘Man’ THOMAS: Mean Old Frisco Blues; JAMES ‘Son’ THOMAS: Devil Blues; HENRY TOWNSEND: Heartbroken Man Blues; BLIND JIM BREWER: Pea Vine Whistle; RORY BLOCK: Future Blues; JAMES ‘Sparky’ RUCKER: Kind-Hearted Woman; TED BOGAN: That’ll Never Happen No More; TAJ MAHAL: Fishin’ Blues; JO ANN KELLY: Try Me One More Time; ETTA BAKER: Broken Hearted Blues; PAUL RISHELL: Trouble Blues; JOHN DEE HOLMAN: Early Morning Blues; GUY DAVIS: Take Me Back, Babe.

Disc 2 – The 1990s/2000s/2010s: HOMESICK JAMES: Bein’ With the One You Love; PAUL GEREMIA: Kick It In the Country; ALVIN ‘Youngblood’ HART: Big Mama’s Door; KEB’ MO’: You Can Love Yourself; DOUG McLEOD: Old Country Road; COREY HARRIS: High Fever Blues; JIMMIE LEE ROBINSON: Angry Lover; GEOFF MULDAUR: Sloppy Drunk; ROBERT LOCKWOOD, Jr.: C.C. Rider; PHILADELPHIA JERRY RICKS: I Will Turn Your Money Green; ROY BOOK BINDER: Can’t Do That No More; PRECIOUS BRYANT: You Don’t Want me No More; ROBERT BELFOUR: Pushin’ My Luck; ERIC BIBB: Come Back Baby; JIMMY ‘Duck’ HOLMES: Nightmare; JOHN HAMMOND: Statesboro Blues; DEL REY & SUZY THOMPSON: Plymouth Rock; CHRIS JAMES & PATRICK RYNN: Black Spider Blues; BONNIE RAITT & STEVE FREUND: Ain’t Nothin’ in Ramblin’.

Complementary to their sets of “electric blues” of a few years back comes this group of four chronologically organized double CD packages from Bear Family that deal with a history of acoustic blues. Assembled by Chicago’s Bill Dahl (who also wrote the excellent booklets), they essentially try to cover the gamut from go to whoa, getting a bit cluttered and messy once dealing with more recent times as the commercial potentials taper off, and audience and performer stocks change. At up to an hour and a half of music per CD, it’s a lot of stuff to get one’s head around, but it’s enjoyably so. Suffice it to say that the 201 selections made are pretty “choice”, but will necessarily always be lacking a favorite or two that one considers also of prime interest! Let it go and just enjoy the music, which sounds so good!! To list all the artists and records contained therein would be a seriously huge run of print and take up lots of space – Bear Family do nothing by halves – so go to their web site to catch all the details!

The “point” being made here is that there were a lot of musicians “doing” this music around the country in a variety of styles/approaches/locations. Suffice it to say that one will find the usual suspects along with equally as many (or more) relative unknowns on each disc – in all cases, the music is great. Such riches are also but the proverbial musical iceberg tip in U.S. Black communities over time.  Recording was generally an act of serendipitous dumb luck! Being scouted and brought to a studio “happened” to many, but one must remember that for every person who had a record released, there were hundreds with equal or better talent who went unnoticed outside their immediate community! So here is what was preserved on disc for whatever reasons and we should be glad of that.

Initially there were the commercial recording companies of the 20s/30s actively pursuing such material for a buck, and then there were a growing number of similarly inclined independent companies after WW II. Once the folk boom began in the 50s/60s, all bets were off: This sort of performance had lost its original Black audience by then, and had garnered a different one. Beginning in the 60s, great material was being recorded either as a form of audio documentation of an African American tradition or pointed towards a White “folk” audience. As Duke Ellington is supposed to have said, “There’s two kinds of music – good music… and the other kind”. This is definitely good music.

While the overall title for the series is eye-catching, it is also misleading – acoustic was the only way that instruments were played until the approach of WWII. Plus, no collection can possibly be definitive, and it’s hardly the roots of it all… whatever “all” means! Having Henry Spaulding, Carl Martin, Tony Hollins, Luther Huff, Baby Tate, Bill Williams, Albert Macon & Robert Thomas, and Precious Bryant collected with Tommy Johnson, Josh White, Frankie Lee Sims, Big Bill, Lonnie Johnson, Son House, Taj Mahal, and Eric Bibb is grand and much fun to listen to, but it could never be “definitive”. That’s impossible to do! What these sets are, is a fine gathering of the mob mainly from old recordings that feature acoustic guitar – no harmonica- or piano-led groups show up, few fiddles or banjoes (save Papa Charlie Jackson and it’s a six-string banjo/guitar for him), much less string bands. On the flip side, there’s a hell of a lot of great guitar players on these records and a shit-load of sides were gone through to pick the “best” or most meaningful variety for this set.

Basically, each disc is given over to a decade beginning with the 1920s with Sylvester Weaver’s influential 1924 recording of “Guitar Rag” (the one big mistake found is that it’s NOT the listed “Guitar Blues”, but that’s OK under the circumstances!). Each decade is cherry-picked with stunning examples from 78s that generally only a Tefteller could afford to own today! Included are a few mighty LofC sides along with the commercial releases. The 50’s disc on Vol. 2 ends with some of the nascent “folk” label sides (Broonzy, Libba Cotton, Snooks Eaglin, Hooker, McDowell) rearing their head as African American-oriented commercial recordings faded fast for this style of blues music. The 60’s (and on) leave “true” commercial sides behind and go with samples from LPs recorded for such as we rather than sides for a Black audience. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Vol. 4 has 80’s/90’s on one disc and the 90’s/00’s/10’s on the other. There are truly no mis-steps in the selections, though – all good.

Listening to the CDs is a lot like having the greatest jukebox in the world (or something like the former Weenie Campbell Jukebox) to hand. Bill Dahl’s great booklets give basic information on each artist, plus some commentary on each selection. Most of it deserves being here and all are entertaining to the max. Needless to say, the sound quality is superb and the packaging top-shelf – typical Bear Family. If you can afford them, they are great, but there is probably nothing here that a stone collector doesn’t have somewhere in his collection of LPs and CDs (and it’s mainly guys!). If you have a CD changer, or always put stuff into your computer or car stereo, there’s hours and hours of great listening to be had with this typically, wonderfully, completely researched Bear Family release. True quality and pure enjoyment.

PETER B. LOWRY                                                                                                                                  Sydney

LIVING BLUES: #240; Dec. 2015 (Vol.46, #6) p.70.

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