I’m Pretty Good At It – Country Blues Guitar 1928-1953
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As much as the roots of the of the blues family tree are long and go deep, so do its branches stretch far and wide. Within that tree, one of the strongest branches, which continues to grow and reach out in the forest of our world’s music, is the blues guitar. Overtaking the banjo, in its popularity by the early years of the last century, the guitar, in the hands of so many blues musicians, has been played in countless different ways, providing so many tones, expressions and feelings; sometimes as a backdrop to a singer’s song, sometimes taking the lead in a performance, sometimes providing the rhythm. Its adaptability, versatility and its all-important portability made it the ideal instrument for the iconic itinerant blues musician. From the solo performance of Ed Andrews, the first country bluesman to record, accompanying himself on guitar, through to scorching, electric, slide guitar playing of Elmore James in the 1950s and on to the blues and rock and roll guitarists today, the country blues guitar has been the bed rock for thousands of guitarists around the world.
Though one of the first instruments of the blues, the acoustic, country blues guitar, did not become a relic of the pre-war-blues era and as will be heard on this album, it continued to be used as a prominent instrument on many commercial recordings long into the post war period.
Papa Charlie Hill seems to have been an associate of Texas piano genius George Thomas, but this doesn’t necessarily indicate that he too came from the Lone Star State. Two previously unavailable takes of Papa Charlie Hill Blues, one of which was originally issued by Gennett, the other being issued here for the first time, aurally suggest that he was an older blues man. Whether or not this was the case they certainly make for very worthwhile listening.
In his book ‘Red River Blues’ Bruce Bastin suggests that Roosevelt Antrim may have been a local North Carolina artist and this seems to be a reasonable assumption. He certainly performed in the Piedmont style popularized by Blind Boy Fuller, its most successful exponent. One can guess that he too was an older artist from his rather rough-hewn style but this could be misleading. particularly likeable is Station Boy Blues, with his take on the familiar “went to the station, looked up on the board” theme.
James ‘Sonny’ Jones attended a lengthy session organised by J.B. Long for Vocalion in Memphis with Blind Boy Fuller, Sonny Terry and Bull City Red (George Washington). In Leaving Home Blues he sings about “going back to Wilson, North Carolina”. Nothing further is known about him. Jones displays a smoother sound than Antrim. The propulsive Pretty Good At It with Sonny Terry on harmonica is irresistible while Pacify My Mind exemplifies the loping, rather mellow blues approach of the region. Love Me With A Feeling (with slide guitar) covered a song already recorded by Merline Johnson and Tampa Red in 1938. Jones enjoins his woman to love him with feeling or he will “let another woman move in”! Dough Roller is another strong performance and may well be an original composition.Dan Pickett, seems to have learned, and adapted, many of the most popular blues recordings of the late 1920s and 1930s. He was a true musical chameleon, switching from one style to another with ease and surprising adeptness. Both his singing and guitar playing were of a very high standard. Pickett modelled his slide guitar playing on that of Tampa Red, ‘The Man With The Gold Guitar’, and even gives him a name check (and Jim Jackson!) in his version of Tampa’s 1929 Chicago Moan Blues. That’s Grieving Me revives Georgia Tom and Tampa Red’s first hit in 1928. Ride To A Funeral In A V-8 comes from a 1935 Buddy Moss recording. A forceful performance of Early One Morning was probably modelled on the classic 1928 Vocalion recording of Prison Bound Blues by Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell, and How Long was also a huge Leroy Carr hit. Lemon Man, although re-worked, clearly derives from records by Blind Boy Fuller and Charlie Pickett, both titled Let Me Squeeze Your Lemon and recorded in 1937. The Fuller-ish You Got To Do Better and Number Writer, about the Policy game maintain the standard. Rarely is an imitator so innovative. Pickett was often “missing”, according to his family and so played no part in the Blues Revival, dying in Alabama in 1967. Doug Quattlebaum, also, is understandably held in high regard by blues aficionados. Born in 1927 in Florence, South Carolina, Doug grew up listening to Blind Boy Fuller and other bluesmen on the radio and on record. In 1953 he got the opportunity to record three superb titles for Philadelphia’s Gotham label, two of which were issued back-to-back. Don’t Be Funny Baby is a dark, brooding, very intense original blues while the lighter, swinging Lizzie Lou seems to have been inspired by a 1950 Calvin Boze Aladdin recording.