My Best Friend.
The best friend I’ve never actually met, in truth.
Mike Hotz was sixty and still considered young enough to be “young” by one of my age (77). He had a blues radio show in Adelaide for next to yonks (that’s an Australian measurement of time) and he won some awards doing a couple of shows on Trix Records. I believe there were at least two all up and I know that we shared the award for at least one. Then he decided it was time he “retired” to W.A. and have the life he imagined he should have; live near a radio station, and live on the land. But things went sticky and pear-shaped, and it didn’t work out that way.
He gathered his stuff and set out to a place that a friend had in the near-outback in Western Australia and got to it. But he was diabetic and over-weight, and stepped on a bone that the dog had to play with. (Never go shoeless when a recently retired whitefella.) It went septic. The doctor, I was told, was a bored refugee plying his trade away from cities so that he could get past his mandatory period and get to making real money in the big city. After doing some late and cursory treatment, he sent him to the wrong hospital in Perth and washed his hands of it all. Situation normal, I guess.
Eventually, he was routed to the proper hospital and the fun began. As a diabetic, he should have been sent to Perth (correctly) from the git-go and he should have been treated accordingly, regardless of how he felt. But Willie Trice came to mind as they carved away carefully instead of hacked away – maybe good for most people, but not for someone with diabetes. Once they were “finished” with him in Perth, off he went to hopefully heal – they estimated a least a year – to Victoria and to his son, Carl’s, place (where Carl was in residence on average one week out of three.) for the year to heal. But it didn’t happen that way in spite of the number of souls helping; there was not to be a happy ending here.
I had been sending album-idea compilations to him for some time now: mainly single artist for him to listen to, beginning with Henry “Rufe” Johnson* and a couple of sacred collections. Then goin’ to town with my tapes which were sourced from some cassettes into rough compilations… about thirty at last count… I did prospective “albums”. These were taken from copies that I had made ca. 1990 of the field recordings (only) before leaving the good ole USA. Mike was no longer doing radio currently and had the time to listen to all my artists (the one that underwhelmed him the most was Cecil Barfield*). He did like a piano set, and my black banjo collation that came along later (“you can never have enough banjo!”), so the positives way outweighed the negative in his mind!
——————————————————————————————————————————— *Sort of a surprise as Alan was greatly smitten by him in 1985 or so. He had heard a couple of potential cuts back when I “auditioned” for him. Just goes to show you that can’t please everyone all of the time about everything
His brief comments are below for each tentative compilation – these are “working” albums and were just originally between us. The final on each it ain’t, but are excessively packed ideas to be considered later for release. Beginning with Mike’s favorite artist, then:
HENRY “RUFE” JOHNSON – RUFE’S LAST FLASH
My favourite official Trix Records album is by Henry Johnson. My favourite unofficial Trix Records just happens to be by Henry Johnson also.
When I learned that Peter had more Johnson “in the can”, I often jokingly lamented the fact that I didn’t have more material by this gifted musician. However, I knew that my chances of hearing those unissued recording were only a fantasy, so it was with great delight I gleefully accepted Peter Lowry’s most generous offer to share his recordings with me.
Henry Johnson was an absolute master musician. An incomparably true giant whose name deserves to have his name mentioned in awed, hushed tones when we speak of Mississippi Fred McDowell or any of the Blues masters.
ELESTER ANDERSON – SO COLD UP NORTH
Certainly, an artist thoroughly deserving of having an album released in his own name. Anderson can be simultaneously constrained (as he is on his reading of W.C. Handy’s “Careless Love”, or he can roar along happily as he does on several of the more up-tempo tunes on this disc.
HOMESICK JAMES – NO BROOM DUSTING HERE
In a word – AWESOME. The mighty Homesick James has been a personal favourite of mine for over 35 years. I know many people who stupidly tell me that HOMESICK sings in a language other than English. Those same fools tell me that his distinctive guitar playing is nothing more than a mish-mash of discordant, out of tune poor timing. To those people…. GO AWAY, YOU FOOLS!
In my book, HOMESICK is as gritty, as downtime, as magnificent as the Blues gets. His searing guitar playing is so damn good, as are his impassioned vocals. Perhaps his is not a style to suit everyone, but he is certainly in my Top 5 Bluesman of all time. We’ll never see the likes of this gargantuan player again, so we need to rejoice the fact that Peter Lowry has this landmark album in the bag, a true masterpiece.
GUITAR SHORTY – GONE FROM HIS FIELD
In his tentative liner notes, Peter Lowry describes Shorty as “the most musical animal” he’s ever seen, high kudos from a man who’s seen so much.
What a blindingly good album this is. Shorty’s a good, distinctive vocalist, and tears the hell out of his guitar. At various times he whistles, hums and moans his way through a satisfying selection of songs. At one stage he uses his voice to imitate the sound of a kazoo…..incredible stuff. This is a fine album, and I could definitely see it as one of the initial official releases.
CECIL BARFIELD – THE PLAINS MAN
My least favourite of all the album’s Peter Lowry has recorded, but that’s not to say it’s shabby in any way. For me, Cecil is an acquired taste, particularly where singing is concerned. Sadly, I have yet to acquire a taste for his music. He is a fine guitar player and honest singer, just not for me.
JOHN CEPHAS – OUR FIRST MEETING
This is where I run out of superlatives. John Cephas is THE quintessential Bluesman by anyone’s standards. He was a world class talent, as good as anybody and better than most. And what a set of songs Peter Lowry has chosen here. Everything from the crooning sweetness of the opening track, to the more full-blown down-home Blues, Cephas can be gentle, delicate on his guitar, or an unbridled force of nature.
EDDIE LEWIS PERSON/TOMMIE LEE RUSSELL – ATLANTA KEYS
Hey, now, Peter Lowry never did locate or records a great number of piano players, but after listening to this album I found myself wishing he had.
I understand the difficulties field-recordings would face logistically. One doesn’t find in-tune pianos laying around within easy reach, and they’re too big and heavy to be a part of the kit in the recordings van or station wagon. So anytime I get to relish a fine album of barrelhouse piano recorded in the field, I become very excited, I was not disappointed. And for me it’s a double treat.
Not only is there some songs and singer’s here, but there are blistering instrumentals as well. Here the player has nowhere to hide, relying on his skill to get him through. This is wonderful, rollicking entertainment, I could take a lot more than this. If only…….!
PERNELL CHARITY – WAVERLEY’S FINEST
This is the album I played more than any other during my recent five- month stay in hospital. I just love this album, Pernell (in my opinion) is as fine a guitar player as any found in the south-east, and a warm, rich singer.
EDDIE KIRKLAND – GOIN’ HOME ALONE
Eddie is a true Blues monster. Way beyond pigeon-holing as a Piedmont player, a slide player, etc. He is purely a Bluesman. What a helluva an album this is, easily as good as any official Kirkland release.
I want to know why Kirkland’s name is never mentioned in a room full of Blues nuts discussing great guitar players, or dynamic singer’s??? He is both of those things, and I am certain if this album were to be released, it would become an important part of his catalogue.
GEORGE HIGGS & ELESTER ANDERSON – NEIGHBORS
Where has George Higgs been all my life?
I simply adore his musicianship. Sadly, the first three songs on the album are corrupted, but the rest of the album is fantastic. Fine singing and even better guitar playing. [corrected later]
HONEYBOY EDWARDS – THINGS I USED TO DO
As good (or better) than many official Honeyboy release. His distinctive vocal style, and his honest, staccato guitar playing are superb……Lord Have Missy. On these recordings, Homeboy sounds quite relaxed and comfortable in his environment. Walter Horton shines on harmonica. Highly recommended.
ELESTER ANDERSON & GEORGE HIGGS – PLAYIN’ TOGETHER
After listening to this selection, I was wondering what criteria Peter B. Lowry used to earmark the songs he used on official Trix Records releases, and what to leave out. There’s wonderful guitar playing on this album, and more than a few really good vocals and songs. Sensational, deep in the Blues material worth release.
TURNER FODDRELL – BROTHER TURNER
This man can pick a guitar – full stop. I find Turner (to be) reminiscent of Mississippi John Hurt, and I can offer no higher compliment than that. His superb guitar playing is chock full of surety and confidence. His singing is relaxed and strikes a chord deep within me rendering him as my go-to man when I need me a fix of Piedmont Blues at its finest.
So, there you have it. A wonderful collection of Piedmont Blues and a little more.
I need to thank Peter B. Lowry for his wonderful generosity in sharing these unissued recordings with me. In 50 years of loving music, I haven’t seen such free-spirited sharing previously. I would dearly love to see these albums officially released. They are an essential thread in the Blues tapestry, and their importance in the Piedmont Blues scene is inestimable.
Thank you, Peter.
And thank you, Mike Hotz – you were a constant source of support and inspiration for me. I am again working alone and I don’t like it one bit – even with my recent misfortune, I’ll soldier on. I’ll try to finish up (or at least set up) my life’s work; this is about half of them at present… and we still never physically have met!
VALE, MIKE! The best friend I never actually met. There are several other ways to “meet” someone besides face-to-face, and we took advantage of them all. At least you got to hear the Henry Johnson sides you coveted, as well as some others you hadn’t gotten to writing about (Peg Leg Sam, for example) yet. Not to mention those I was too lazy about and left to the digitized copies (Baby Tate, e.g.) to fool with at the time. Can’t get them all, but you can try!
PETER B. LOWRY Sydney – 2018
p.s. – I stumbled across a duplicate I had been unaware of until now. I thought, “I’ll just send it over to Hotz… he probably doesn’t have it!” But, I can’t do that anymore… he’s not among the living. Damn it!!