Big Maceo – Complete Recorded Works 1941-1950 Vol 1 (1941-1945) “Flying Boogie”
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Hattie Spruel was an ambitious woman and first met Big Maceo when she hired him to play for parties in her home. They were soon married and Hattie went to work to make a name for her new husband. The couple moved to Chicago in 1941, where she made the acquaintance of prominent guitarists Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red. She introduced them to Maceo and the two were impressed with his skills. They brought him to the attention of RCA’s master producer, Lester Melrose, and within just a few weeks Maceo was recording for the famed Bluebird label. The first session would prove to be extremely fruitful for Merriweather. He recorded a total of 14 sides, with the first single becoming the most important of his career; Worried Life Blues. Like many other songs of the day, “Worried Life Blues” was borrowed from an earlier recording by Sleepy John Estes titled “Someday Baby”. Many of his compositions were reworkings of songs by artists like Kokomo Arnold, Son House and Tommy Johnson, among others. “Worried Life Blues” would itself also be modified by Little Walter and Muddy Waters as both “County Jail Blues” and “Trouble No More” a decade later. Can’t You Read shows Maceo at his vocal versatile best, almost deceiving the listener into believing there are two singers. Tampa Red does a sterling job as the guitar accompanist. Subtle riffs and beautifully understated solos complement each track. Red moves seamlessly from stinging white-hot licks to gentle swing where required. In Texas Blues Major exhorts himself to“pick ‘em Mr Maceo” and pick ‘em he does. He was back in the studio again in December 1941 this time to record another six sides accompanied again by Tampa Red. Tuff Luck Blues is indeed the most bluesey track of the CD with the emphasis on the ubiquitous “bad luck and trouble”. Women and cars feature here and the hoarseness of Maceo’s voice emphasise his woes. Actually, Maceo sounds quite hoarse throughout this session and there is a slight lacklustre to these tracks compared to the freshness of the first six. His piano playing is as honed as ever but his exhausting schedule must have been taking its toll. Nevertheless, with Tampa on guitar and Clifford Jones on drums the trio swing along in a business-like manner. Maceo was now, to all intents and purposes, a star. He went back into the studio on Tuesday 28th July 1942 to cut another four sides in his own right and accompanied Tampa for the final four sides of that session. Shortly after this recording date the shutters came down as a result of the recording ban by the American Federation of Musicians and it was not until 19th Feb 1945 that Big Maceo entered the studio again. Despite the ban Maceo toured almost non-stop, he became Big Bill Broonzy’s pianist in a first class band that the pair had put together and they worked all over including Tennessee, Atlanta and Chicago, indeed anywhere where they were wanted. Despite the ups and downs of the years of the Musicians Union ban, when Maceo finally got back into the studio and he sounded as good as ever. Indeed, the years on the road with the likes of Big Bill Broonzy, had, perversely “roughened Maceo’s edges”. I’m So Worried and Things Have Changed bring a more soulful edge to his voice. His voice is tinged with pain and the languorous style of his playing give us a Blues Player at the height of his creativity. It was good to have Maceo back again in the studio and things looked like they were on the up and up again. Indeed, no one could have predicted the catastrophic events that were to come. The story of his remaining years and final records are discussed in detail in the accompanying notes to the second volume, Document CD DOCD-5674.