Sammy Price and The Blues Singers – Various Artists Vol 2 (1939-1949)
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In addition to recordings made under his own name Sam Price became the house pianist for Decca in New York and appeared on many blues sides with such singers as Trixie Smith and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. His solid, imaginative blues, jazz, boogie-woogie and swing based piano accompaniments were vital ingredients to the success of many recordings.
Document’s second volume highlighting the work of one of the great session musicians of blues recording begins with the only recordings by Lether McGraw who was promoted by Decca as ‘the ghost of Bessie Smith.’ Allowing for a certain amount of exaggeration, one can see what Decca meant. McGraw gets some likable accompaniment from a band billed as ‘Sam Price’s Fly Cats’, who were in fact Danny Barker’s Fly Cats, minus their leader. James Carter, one of the few male singers to appear on these two volumes, sings of death on both his songs. His high tenor is reminiscent of other thirties singers – Bumble Bee Slim and Bill Gaither for instance – but he imbues his performances with more emotional intensity than they commonly strove for. Death Letter Blues, to the tune of Betty And Dupree / The Four O’ Clock Blues explores some fairly familiar lyrical territory, but Death Cell Blues is more unusual, as one of the few blues purporting to be sung by a dead (executed) man! Nora Lee King, an aspiring guitarist according to Sam Price, was another of the many New York singers who sought to emulate Lil Green; here she covers Why Don’t You Do Right and Love Me, but also shows that there was more to her talents than that. Let Me Rock You Home, to the tune of How Long Blues is notable for the accomplished guitar work of Ham Jackson, and for a pretty, well-judged solo from Price. Wee Bea Booze, whose real name was Muriel Nicholls, played her own guitar on records, somewhat unusually for a New York blues woman in those days; perhaps the success of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who also played a National resonator guitar, prompted her to take it up. She is one more who covers Lil Green, on If I’m A Fool, If I Didn’t Love You and Let’s Be Friends but there was more to her than that, as the sexy I Love To Georgia Brown So Slow and a brace of topical wartime numbers demonstrate, in their different ways. Her best performances, though, are undoubtedly on a pair of much-recorded warhorses. Listening to her and the sensuous way that she caresses the lyrics, it seems evident to me that her reading was the basis for Chuck Willis’ later interpretation on Atlantic. Two of her four post-war recordings are also included here; Gulf Coast Blues is a gentle reworking of a Bessie Smith number, but Mr. Freddie Blues, is surely her masterpiece and Sam Price’s. It’s easy to hear why Harmon Ray was known as Peetie Wheatstraw’s Buddy. He could also sing like Charles Brown – a bit – and he covers Brown’s Trouble Blues at this 1949 session. Elsewhere though, it’s Wheatstraw all the way; Ray doesn’t bother to change ‘They call me Peetie’ in Working Man, for instance. The most interesting performance here is certainly President Blues, one of the few blues tributes to the Man from Missouri. Harmon Ray, and before him Peetie Wheatstraw may have sang the lyric, but on the evidence of these two CDs, it was Sam Price who could justly claim to be ‘a hardworking man doing the best I can.’