Misses 107 – The Big Apple… and other cities!
I’ve held back from writing too many pieces like this one, because it’s about things I did not do over the 10 years + that I was active. Mostly I have tried to be grateful for that which I did accomplish (the “hits”) and not get too hung up on that which I didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t do at the time (the “misses”). But nobody can be 100% successful in their endeavors and there was always only one of me! (The beasts didn’t count!) So here, once again, are some of those items from the “misses” bag, many due to lack of “spare” funds or time (or sheer cowardice). Occasionally, others stepped in after me, but that was not the norm through the SE et al.
New York City, as New York, NY is popularly known, was a challenge for a shy White guy from the northern NJ suburbs. It was BIG and had a certain fierce-some reputation: The South Bronx (especially), and Harlem were daunting concepts to me, not to mention Newark, NJ! There were some musicians that I did eventually interview in situ in my field-work adventures after properly girding my loins and taking a deep breath. They included Tarheel Slim in the South Bronx; Johnny Acey in Queens; Jimmy Spruill, and Larry Dale also in The Bronx. There were Bobby Harris, and Bob Gaddy in Harlem, plus some musicians I met or had heard of, but was not able to follow up with, such as pianists Leroy Little, or Roscoe Gordon in Harlem, guitarist Bill Bryant in Newark (a Bob Gear referral) [and possibly Seth Richard and/or John Sheffield], the N.O. drummer Charles “Honeyboy” Otis in NYC (who played with Hudson Valley then-locals Guy & Pipp Gillette), guitarists Joe Richardson or Bobby Foster in Brooklyn, saxist/singer “Mr. Bear” (Teddy McRae) who worked at Rainbow Records on 125th St, singer “Little Ann” Sanford – Tarheel Slim’s main squeeze [Slim & Ann, The Lovers, etc.) – also in the South Bronx, not to mention one or two now forgotten musicians I met en passant at Bobby Robinson’s shop!
Brownie McGhee and I searched Brooklyn one day for his protégé Bobby Foster – I found out much later that he had been working in the kitchen of a Catskills hotel down the road from my home! I had met Les Cooper (leader of The Soul Rockers) at a Key & Seal homecoming party ca. 1961/62 [see: O&S #27] at Princeton through saxist Bill Bridges. He was a part of a band that backed John Lee Hooker who we had booked for the club. Later on, class/club mate George Sensabaugh and I attended a NYC recording session for Bobby Robinson’s LP on Cooper in the wake of the success of “The Wiggle Wobble” single. But that was way too early for me in my journey into Black music to consider a follow up. Many similar opportunities were also missed at my many times at The Apollo Theatre due to my innate shyness (and other insecurities): Big Maybelle, in her dressing gown, Wynonie Harris constantly on-the-move, Jr. Parker, Jimmy Reed, a.o. It was difficult for me not knowing how to broach things with them in amongst the backstage chaos! As for Little Ann (Sanford), she just didn’t react to my male-oriented radar of the day, I’m embarrassed to say. “I y’am what I y’am”… and was in those days.
Some studio recording opportunities also went begging over time – Ahmet Ertegun “paid” me for producing the “Blues Originals” series of LPs for Atlantic (O&S #15) with free studio time to record Tarheel Slim with a band. Sadly, I didn’t get it together before Slim died of throat cancer. Other artists I slacked off regarding possible studio recording were the likes of Johnny Acey, Larry Dale, Joe Richardson, Bob Gaddy, and Jimmy Spruill. Richardson worked as a long distance truck driver at that time and we were planning on setting up a meet at one of the rest areas on the New York Thruway near New Paltz! I had met him in one of the three bands that Larry Dale fronted one Saturday night – this one at The Rennaisance Ballroom (O&S #13). Never happened. Bassist and singer “Bobby Harris” (Herman Seay) was not well when we met and I interviewed him, having had a recent kidney transplant (or waiting for one) – he died while I was dithering.
To change the scene a bit, I always had in mind recording harmonica maestro Little Sam Davis with a band up in the Hudson Valley (see O&S #2 and #81) – fortunately that happened at the hands of others (bassist Brad Sexton, guitarist Fred Scribner), resulting in a great album for Delmark (“I Ain’t Lyin’”). Speaking of great harp men, Jerry McCain was one I interviewed in my travels, who was specifically done for LIVING BLUES: his long-term manager (Gary Sizemore) insisted Jerry drive to Atlanta to his office for that to happen rather than letting me drive to Jerry’s place in Gadsden, AL (embarrassing for me!). The interview went well, though, and Jim & Amy used stuff from my tape in their published story on him. I had always wanted to record Jerry, but never got around to it – fortunately, Mike Vernon did a bang-up job for Cello Records and the MMRF people (“This Stuff Just Kills Me”).
The last time I saw Jerry was at one of the National Folk Festivals when they were being held exclusively at Wolf Trap Farm Park in Vienna, VA in summer. He was booked in by Dick Spottswood, who had recently finished a series of LPs for the LofC, which included Jerry’s commercial recording, “My Next Door Neighbor”. It was a great idea and wonderful to hear him in full flight at the festival. He played with Big Chief Ellis as a duo – Jerry ended up on the floor rolling himself up in his harp mike cord (while still playing) and then unrolling it to a big set finish! [Similar to Eddie Kirkland’s finales doing backward somersaults while playing the guitar!] Further from “my” bailiwick, Pinetop Perkins said he’d record for me (this was before he was everywhere!): I had the idea to do half an LP with just a guitarist in a duo situation (like the Johnny Jones Chess session), and the other half with Robert Lockwood’s full band – slide side, jump side! I spoke of it one time back stage in Muddy Waters’ dressing room at The Great Southeastern Music Hall – Muddy said he’d be glad to do the duo cuts! Damn!!
I also did some studio stuff that I never got released – from the Lockwood band came Maurice Reedus’ fine jazz album for one (“Get Outta Town, Man!”/Trix 3318). Back story: he rehearsed with Cleveland musicians in anticipation of the session who all crapped out on the night before. Maurice really found out who his friends were – the drummer drove through a snow storm all the way from Michigan to do it (see: O&S #40). I had not wanted a pick-up date, but that is what I got, but it was good. A second studio recording session on Eddie Kirkland was basically done, but un-mixed (multi-track on 2” tape) – time and money ran thin and it was never finished. I still have the master tapes… I do not know what condition they are in, though. Probably potentially the album is second only to the one on Prestige/TruSound from ’61 in quality and energy (that album caught the ears of both John Mayall, and Foghat).
I did do a 4-track studio session with R.L. Lowe (a/k/a Robert “Steamboat” Fulton, or “Country Boy”… see O&S # 6 for more info) in Atlanta and left the tapes at the studio to come back to next time around. By the time that happened the following year, the studio and engineer had disappeared. I did get a cassette from R.L. that he made of himself that I could probably squeeze into listenable shape. He was THE best “unknown” modern blues guitarist in Atlanta, and he also played good rack harp. In his day, he led the house band at The Lithonia Country Club (an important local stop on “the GA chittlin’ circuit”), and often at The Royal Peacock as well. His only commercial recorded appearance was with Crudup for his last Victor session in 1954 in Atlanta. Sax player “Fats” Jackson is another Atlantan I interviewed, but went no farther with – my mistake, but he did do a bit of studio time after that. He was part of The TriSaxual Champs album with Sil Auston, a.o. and they had an LP released
Another “name” miss for me was rockabilly singer/guitarist Sonny Burgess – we met in DC at the Smithsonian’s annual big “do” on the the National Mall (The Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife). That year the state was TN, and the city was Memphis… you can connect the dots (the country I believe was Japan)! Sonny was impressed with what I had done as a record label and wanted to record a blues album for me. Once again, life kept getting in the way, as it often does, and it was not to be. So many ideas, so little time, and so little money!
Looking back, I can once again say that being a small record label is an act of extreme masochism, especially when one really doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing or had gotten themselves into. Truly, fools rush in, and I was one of the fools! But I also consider myself to be one lucky shy SOB from Northern NJ as a result. For all the mistakes I made, I still can hold my head up high and be proud of what I did accomplish under those often trying and awkward circumstances. Not to mention all the really nice people I met in my travels! Next up: “misteaks” made down in the SE. Ya’ just can’t get ’em all, no matter how hard ya’ try and how lucky you are… and sometimes the luck just shuts down for a while!!
PETER B. LOWRY Sydney – Feb 2016