Legendary British bluesman John Mayall shares his favourite piano tracks for your listening pleasure. Intimate sleeve notes written by John with reminiscences of great Blues figures. 22 hot tracks from 1928-1960.
Robert R Calder writes:
Veteran English blues performer John Mayall’s “reminiscences” here aren’t “of great blues figures” but of encounters, often via recordings, of the very best barrelhouse, blues and boogie woogie piano music.
Barrelhouse piano combined various different proportions of blues, ragtime and dance rhythms in the hands of technically unorthodox players. Jelly Roll Morton spoke of “specialists —each with a tiny repertoire nobody else could play”. Bang on!
Cow Cow Davenport also recorded ragtime, but Cow Cow Blues is a classic of shifting pace and boogie rhythm. Jump Steady Blues is Pinetop Smith’s recorded masterpiece. His “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” fixed the genre’s name but inspired better performances from others, and Cleo Brown’s amusing pseudo-urbane pussy-cat reading.
Speckled Red’s drivingly swung number was re-recorded when he kicked off the blues revival fifty years back. Montana Taylor’s Indiana Avenue Stomp is one of two 1929 masterpieces he re-recorded for 1940s collectors. Charlie Spand’s Moanin’ the Blues is gentler, Romeo Nelson’s Head Rag Hop a wild miracle of dance rhythms. Speckled Red’s Early in the Morning is a medium-tempo rolling vocal blues. St. Louis stylist Wesley Wallace’s Fanny Lee Blues is a crazy dance with a simple bass par and torrents of drastically transfigured right hand ex-ragtime licks. Indianapolis’ Turner Parrish delivers a potent, fast Fives. On the storming Pratt City Blues Jabo Williams inverts conventional bass patterns, while his fellow Alabamian Walter Roland’s Jookit Jookit is a jerky dance.
Versatile Little Brother Montgomery’s No Special Rider is a slower medium-tempo vocal blues with a walking bass. Was Jesse James’ one recording date granted as his last wish as a death cell prisoner? So said legend, factually dubious but actually apt to the vocal desperation on Lonesome Day Blues, with dissonant hammering right hand over rolling bass.
Albert Ammons’ Bass Goin’ Crazy is Chicago boogie woogie unsurpassed for risk-taking assurance and intensity. Six Wheel Chaser represents Meade “Lux Lewis’ penchant for complex, sometimes train-like rhythms—swinging, not mechanical. Chicagoans Jimmy Yancey excelled in slow blues like 35th and Dearborn, while Cripple Clarence Lofton’s strength was savage boogie, though his In The Mornin’ here is a deep and doomy blues.
Trained pianists and jazzmen seldom matched such specialists, but Kansas City fostered exceptions: Pete Johnson’s Holler Stomp is cleanly fingered with relentless drive (the normally messy Memphis Slim sings over sheer imitation Pete Johnson). Even the recently departed Jay McShann’s huge jazz credentials get forgotten after post-1940s market pressures kept him playing blues/R&B, with Vine Street Boogie swinging distinctively.
Otis In The Dark returns to Chicago, 1960. Otis Spann, son of a legendary Mississippi pianist and pupil of Brother Montgomery, was possibly the last direct representative of pre-war tradition. Yet the dragging bass is new, on a magnificent fast blues by the longtime engine of the Muddy Waters band.