Category: blues

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Albums Released In 1971

On this day in music history: December 1, 1969 – “The Thrill Is Gone” by BB King is released. Written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell, it is the eightieth single release for the blues music icon from Indianola, MS. Well established on the R&B chart since the early 50’s, B.B. King sees his fan base waning during the mid 60’s, as younger African American music fans move away from the blues. King’s then new manager Sid Seidenberg understands that the key to his client’s long term survival, is to diversify his audience. His manager books him into rock venues like the Fillmore East and West, and the Boston Tea Party. The musician finds himself opening for many of the British and American blues rock artists that he has influenced. The young predominantly white audiences quickly become fans of B.B. King’s rousing live performances, leading him to work with even bigger acts. The Rolling Stones invite King as the opening act on their US tour in late 1969. Looking to capitalize on his newly found audience, King’s label ABC Records also looks to take him to a new career plateau. Though a consistent R&B hit maker, B.B. has only scored two top 40 pop hits, with “Rock Me Baby” (#34 Pop, #12 R&B) in 1964, and “Paying The Cost To Be The Boss” (#39 Pop, #10 R&B) in 1968. The veteran musician is paired with a young producer and engineer named Bill Szymczyk (Joe Walsh, The Eagles). Recording at The Hit Factory in New York City, musicians on the session include Hugh McCracken (guitar), Herbie Lovell (drums), Jerry Jemmott (bass) and Paul Harris (keyboards). King and Szymczyk look to bridge the gap between his blues roots, and more contemporary styles. Titled “Completely Well”, it features a song titled “The Thrill Is Gone”. Written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell in 1951, it’s originally recorded by Hawkins. Recorded during sessions on June 24 and 25, 1969, the song is given a new arrangement. Anchored by King’s impassioned vocals and trademark bluesy guitar licks, the track is given a haunting string arrangement by Bert “Super Charts” DeCoteaux. Issued as an edited single, “The Thrill Is Gone” quickly becomes a smash. The song peaks at #3 on the Billboard R&B singles chart on February 7, 1970, and #15 on the Hot 100 on February 21, 1970. Its huge success earns B.B. King a whole new generation of fans, winning him a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1971. “The Thrill Is Gone” becomes the one he is most closely associated with, for the rest of his career. King re-records the song numerous times over the years, including duet versions with Eric Clapton, and Tracy Chapman. The 1969 recording of “The Thrill Is Gone” is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1998. In November of 2015, Universal Music Group reissues the original mono 45 mix of “Thrill”, as part of a limited edition 10" single EP, for Black Friday Record Store Day.

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On this day in music history: November 11, 1920 – “Crazy Blues” by Mamie Smith And Her Jazz Hounds is released. Written by Perry Bradford, it is biggest hit for the singer, dancer and actress from Cincinnati, OH. Born Mamie Robinson, she begins her career as a dancer at the age of ten. Known as an all around performer, her talents also extend to singing and acting. She marries fellow singer William “Smitty” Smith in 1912. In 1918, Smith meets songwriter and vaudeville performer Perry Bradford. Bradford persuades Okeh Records’ A&R director Fred Hager to record Mamie Smith. The songwriter recommends her, when singer Sophie Tucker falls ill before a scheduled recording session. Before this, no African American singers had ever been recorded by the label. In spite of racist groups, vowing to boycott labels that record black musicians, Hager ignores the threats. Backed by a band of white musicians, Mamie Smith breaks the color barrier by recording “That Thing Called Love” and “You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down” on February 14, 1920. Just six months later, Mamie Smith records “Crazy Blues”. It’s cut at the Okeh Studios on August 10, 1920, with a band of black musicians called The Jazz Hounds. Though Bradford claims to have played piano on the track, photographs associated with the historic session, show stride piano icon Willie “The Lion” Smith at the piano. With the African Americans being under served, in terms of records out of their own culture being available, “Crazy Blues” is an instant sensation. In its first week, it sells over 10,000 copies, and more than 75,000 within its first month of release. In all, it is believed to have sold more than a million copies. Mamie Smith’s landmark recording, opens the door for more black musicians to attain mainstream success. Smith becomes a big star, continuing to record for Okeh through 1924. Switching to Ajax and Victor Records, they do not sell well. She continues to tour and perform in the US and Europe, before retiring in 1931. Her own fame is eclipsed by other blues vocal legends like Bessie Smith (no relation), Ma Rainey and others. Smith appears in several low budget films from 1939 to 1943. She makes her last public appearance in 1944, along side Billie Holiday. Falling ill, Smith spends the last two years of her life in a Harlem hospital. She dies in 1946, and is buried in an unmarked grave. It is believed that she was penniless at the time of her death. With the help of West German blues fans, money is raised to purchase a headstone for Smith in 1963. Blues singer Victoria Spivey and Len Kunstadt have her re-interred at Frederick Douglass Memorial Park in Richmond, NY, on January 27, 1964. “Crazy Blues” is later honored when it is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1994, and is selected for preservation by the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2005.

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B.B. King photographed by John D. Shearer for LIFE magazine, 1972.

On this day in music history: October 23, 2001 – “Screamin’ And Hollerin’ The Blues: The Worlds Of Charley Patton” by Charley Patton is released. Compilation Producer: Dean Blackwood. The seven CD, one hundred forty four track box set collects the complete works of legendary Mississippi Delta blues musician Charley Patton (1891 – 1934) recorded for the Paramount and Vocalion labels between June 1929 and February 1934. The compilation has its genesis in a biography written by Patton biographer and delta blues historian John Fahey in 1970. Having only recorded for a brief five years before dying prematurely at the age of forty three, Patton is largely forgotten about, other than by blues historians and fans who are aware of his legend. With the assistance of business partner Dean Blackwood, Fahey set about putting together the definitive word on Patton, forming the label Revenant Records. The process of compiling the recordings proves to be a very long and arduous process. The bluesman’s original label Paramount Records being a relatively low budget operation, goes out of business during The Depression in the 1930’s. All of the original metal masters of Charley Patton’s recordings are destroyed or sold for scrap after their demise. Paramount’s records were pressed on relatively poor quality shellac 78 RPM discs, with even the best copies exhibiting prodigious surface noise. Nearly eighty years later, only handful of surviving copies, or just one original copy remains, often in rough condition. With minimal clean up (to prevent losing too much of the recordings original sonics) and speed correction, they are carefully digitally remastered for the best possible sound quality. Sadly, John Fahey passes away in February of 2001 eight months before the set is released, which is dedicated to his memory. The lavishly produced set comes in a 11" x 13" x 3.5" cloth-bound slipcase box (with title graphics embossed in gold ink), with a 78 RPM single binder housed inside. Inside the front cover is a paperback copy of Fahey’s biography on Charley Patton with an extensively annotated one hundred twenty eight page book, with reproductions of original newspaper ads advertising Patton’s singles. The CD’s themselves attached to 10" cardboard replicas of Paramount and Vocalion label 78’s, and stored in reproductions of the original company paper sleeves. The box also comes with a complete set of Paramount and Vocalion label singles printed on stickers. In spite of its $200 plus price tag, it is released to an enthusiastic response by blues aficionados, and actually sells out, turning it an instant collectors item. “Screamin’ And Hollerin The Blues” wins three Grammy Awards in 2003 for Best Historical Album, Best Album Notes and Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Package.

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Janis Joplin

performing with Big Brother & the Holding Company

at the Monterey Pop Festival on June 18, 1967.

Remembering blues guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan (born Stephen Ray Vaughan in Dallas, TX) – October 3, 1954 – August 27, 1990

Billie Holiday and her pet chihuahua Pepi photographed by by Isaac Sutton, circa 1957.  

Born on this day: July 30, 1936 – Blues guitar icon Buddy Guy (born George Guy in Lettsworth, LA). Happy 83rd Birthday, Buddy!!

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