Roosevelt Sykes Vol 6 1939-1941
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The Complete Recorded Works (14 June 1929 15 December 1944)
Vol 6: 13th April 1939 to 27th February 1941
Featuring the recordings of:
Roosevelt Sykes (The Honey Dripper), vocal, piano; probably Sidney Catlett, drums.
Genres: Blues, Blues Piano, Arkansas Blues, Chicago Blues.
Abridged from this albums original booklet notes. Sid” Catlett is present on all the Roosevelt Sykes recordings contained on this album; he is certainly there from 3 April 1940, and the percussion on the earlier sessions sounds like him as well. Catlett’s career traced a dazzling path through the great bands of the day, both before and after his studio relationship with Sykes began: between 1936 and 1944 he was successively with Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman, Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Benny Goodman, Armstrong again, and Teddy Wilson. 44 Blues was Sykes’ fourth version of the song on disc since he’d ‘ made the original almost ten years previously; clearly it was both established as a classic and firmly associated with him. This version, as Paul Oliver has observed, works with several interlinked levels of meaning, using “44” to signify a gun, a train, and a cabin which is probably a prison cell. Mistake In Life was a more recent hit for Sykes, cut in 1938; its sequel is notable for some remarkable piano playing, and sensitive singing. As ever, Sykes was ranging from the philosophical to the hedonistic in his song writing, and from the deep blues to the quasi-ballad. One of the oddest of the latter is Shoe Shiner’s Moan, which sounds as if it could have been a specialty number lifted from a musical comedy. We Will Never Make The Grade is another number that leans towards pop, though its definition of poverty as having to eat beans on Sunday (as well as the other six days of week, in other words) is more acerbic than most pop songs manage. Sykes’ lyrics are almost always rewarding, and clearly impressed other blues singers; the topical reference to the girlfriend who could be “a model in the World’s Fair”, which took place in New York in 1939, didn’t survive, nor did the bizarre image of the Sally Long being done by “Flames of Evaporation” (perhaps a dance troupe of the day?) but the “no education” verse in Unlucky 13 Blues obviously impressed Lightnin’ Hopkins, who made it the basis of one of his most moving songs. In more cheerful vein, the opening line of 47th Street Jive was later to be mortalised by Big Joe Turner, and on this number Sykes and Catlett between them show clearly where rock ‘n roll came from. Usually, Roosevelt Sykes was concerned to discuss the relations of the sexes, whether in philosophical generalisations, or in the very personal sounding terms of Essie Mae Blues. Occasional violent imagery, Iike that of Pistol Shootin’ Blues, or the criticism of meanness in Under Eyed Woman, is balanced by jovial items like Papa Low, which recommends cunnilingus as a way of keeping one’s girlfriend from getting too close to her own girlfriends. This sort of bawdy number had been much featured on Sykes’ recordings a couple of years previously, but as the decade changed, they became less frequent, as Roosevelt Sykes perhaps, and the world certainly, became concerned with more serious issues.Chris Smith Copyright 1992 Document Records