A Scattered History of the Blues Vol. 4: Harmonica Blues

harmonica blues v4When we get to heaven they say, we will all play harps.  If they sound like these then that is ok with me.

Jazz Gillum

Jazz Gillum

One of the pre-eminent Chicago harpists of the pre-war era, Bill “Jazz” Gillum was born September 11, 1904 in Indianola, Mississippi. He picked up the harmonica at the age of six, and five years later ran away from home to live with relatives in nearby Charleston; after spending his formative years playing street corners and house parties for spare change, Gillum moved to Chicago in 1923, and before long he hooked up with guitarist Big Bill Broonzy, often playing together as a duo in area clubs. Following a few sideman dates for ARC, he signed with RCA Victor’s Bluebird imprint in 1934 to record as a solo artist; his strong relationship with producer Lester Melrose also resulted in a steady stream of session work, and he was a fixture of the “Bluebird Beat” house band. Gillum was drafted into the Army in 1942, and when he returned from duty, his high, reedy harmonica sound had been largely eclipsed by the harder-edged style of John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson; he recorded a few more sides for Bluebird, but drifted into obscurity by the 1950s, dying after a gunshot wound to the head on March 29, 1966. (AMG)

Sonny Boy Williamson

Sonny Boy Williamson

A moody, bitter, and suspicious man, no one wove such a confusing web of misinformation as Sonny Boy Williamson II. Even his birth date (stated as December 5, 1899 in most reference books, but some sources claim his birth may have been in either 1897 or 1909) and real name (Aleck or Alex or Willie “Rice” — which may or may not be a nickname — Miller or Ford) cannot be verified with absolute certainty. Of his childhood days in Mississippi, absolutely nothing is known. What is known is that by the mid-’30s, he was traveling the Delta working under the alias of Little Boy Blue. With blues legends like Robert Johnson, Robert Nighthawk, Robert Jr. Lockwood, and Elmore James as interchangeable playing partners, he worked the juke joints, fish fries, country suppers and ballgames of the era. By the early ’40s, he was the star of KFFA’s King Biscuit Time, the first live blues radio show to hit the American airwaves. As one of the major ruses to occur in blues history, his sponsor — the Interstate Grocery Company — felt they could push more sacks of their King Biscuit Flour with Miller posing as Chicago harmonica star John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson. In today’s everybody-knows-everything video age, it’s hard to think that such an idea would work, much less prosper. After all, the real Sonny Boy was a national recording star, and Miller‘s vocal and harmonica style was in no way derivative of him. But Williamson had no desire to tour in the South, so prosper it did, and when John Lee was murdered in Chicago, Miller became — in his own words — “the original Sonny Boy.” Among his fellow musicians, he was usually still referred to as Rice Miller, but to the rest of the world he did, indeed, become the Sonny Boy Williamson. (READ MORE)



Track Listing:

01 Viola Lee Blues – 1928 [Noah Lewis]

02 Trouble Trouble – 1934 [Hammie Nixon]

Jazz Gillum

03 Gillum’ Windy Blues – 1938

04 Mule Blues – 1938

05 Against My Will – 1939

06 Boar Hog Blues – 1938

07 Stavin’ Chain – 1938

08 Got To Reap What You Sow – 1939

09 Key To The Highway – 1940

10 Muddy Pond Blues – 1941

11 From Now On – 1941

12 I’m Gonna Leave You On The Outskirts Of Town – 1942

Sonny Boy Williamson

13 Good Morning Little School Girl – 1937

14 Suzie Q – 1938

15 Decoration Blues – 1938

16 Tell Me Baby – 1939

17 I’ve Been Dealing With The Devil – 1940

18 War Time Blues – 1940

19 Sloppy Drunk Blues – 1941

20 Whiskey Headed Blues – 1938

21 Goodbye Red – 1938

22 Blue Bird Blues – 1937

23 Lost Baby Blues – 1939 [Big Walter Horton]

24 I Just Keep Loving Her – 1947 [Little Walter]

25 Boogie – 1947 [Snooky Pryor]



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