quarta-feira, 16 de novembro de 2011

Sonny Boy Williamson - Bluebird Blues

Easily the most important harmonica player of the prewar era, John Lee Williamson almost single-handedly made the humble mouth organ a worthy lead instrument for blues bands -- leading the way for the amazing innovations of Little Walter and a platoon of others to follow. If not for his tragic murder in 1948 while on his way home from a Chicago gin mill, Williamson would doubtless have been right there alongside them, exploring new and exciting directions.
It can safely be noted that Williamson made the most of his limited time on the planet. Already a harp virtuoso in his teens, the first Sonny Boy (Rice Miller would adopt the same moniker down in the Delta) learned from Hammie Nixon and Noah Lewis and rambled with Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachell before settling in Chicago in 1934.
Williamson's extreme versatility and consistent ingenuity won him a Bluebird recording contract in 1937. Under the direction of the ubiquitous Lester Melrose, Sonny Boy Williamson recorded prolifically for Victor both as a leader and behind others in the vast Melrose stable (including Robert Lee McCoy and Big Joe Williams, who in turn played on some of Williamson's sides).
Williamson commenced his sensational recording career with a resounding bang. His first vocal offering on Bluebird was the seminal "Good Morning School Girl," covered countless times across the decades. That same auspicious date also produced "Sugar Mama Blues" and "Blue Bird Blues," both of them every bit as classic in their own right.
The next year brought more gems, including "Decoration Blues" and "Whiskey Headed Woman Blues." The output of 1939 included "T.B. Blues" and "Tell Me Baby," while Williamson cut "My Little Machine" and "Jivin' the Blues" in 1940. Jimmy Rogers apparently took note of Williamson's "Sloppy Drunk Blues," cut with pianist Blind John Davis and bassist Ransom Knowling in 1941; Rogers adapted the tune in storming fashion for Chess in 1954. The mother lode of 1941 also included "Ground Hog Blues" and "My Black Name," while the popular "Stop Breaking Down" (1945) found the harpist backed by guitarist Tampa Red and pianist Big Maceo.
Sonny Boy cut more than 120 sides in all for RCA from 1937 to 1947, many of them turning up in the postwar repertoires of various Chicago blues giants. His call-and-response style of alternating vocal passages with pungent harmonica blasts was a development of mammoth proportions that would be adopted across the board by virtually every blues harpist to follow in his wake.
But Sonny Boy Williamson wouldn't live to reap any appreciable rewards from his inventions. He died at the age of 34, while at the zenith of his popularity (his romping "Shake That Boogie" was a national R&B hit in 1947 on Victor), from a violent bludgeoning about the head that occurred during a strong-arm robbery on the South Side. "Better Cut That Out," another storming rocker later appropriated by Junior Wells, became a posthumous hit for Williamson in late 1948. It was the very last song he had committed to posterity. Wells was only one young harpist to display his enduring allegiance; a teenaged Billy Boy Arnold had recently summoned up the nerve to knock on his idol's door to ask for lessons. The accommodating Sonny Boy Williamson was only too happy to oblige, a kindness Arnold has never forgotten (nor does he fail to pay tribute to his eternal main man every chance he gets). Such is the lasting legacy of the blues' first great harmonicist.
Bill Dahl

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Willie Trice - Blue & Rag'd

This LP collects recordings made of the North Carolina singer and guitarist Willie Trice by Peter B. Lowry in the period July, 1971--December, 1973.  The music that Willie Trice plays here is superlatively strong and in a personal style of considerable complexity, to the extent that much of what Willie Trice played can be fairly said to be distinctively his own.  That degree of originality and particularity of voice is very rare, in any style.

At the time at which Peter Lowry and Bruce Bastin found Willie Trice, after a tip from Buddy Moss, Willie had gone through a period in which he had not done a lot of playing. Moreover, he had serious physical challenges, and had recently lost both of his legs from the knee down due to diabetic complications.  That having been said, it is apparent from the first notes that Willie Trice plays on the LP that there is no need to make allowances for his infirmities in listening to his music.  Far from being the pale memory of a once-great player's music, the renditions here are muscular and alertly engaged, from the beginning of the program right through to its end.
How can Willie Trice's sound be characterized?  Willie's singing voice was a light baritone with a bright sort of overtone to it, and his delivery was very country. He was not an urban guy and made no bones about it. His tone on the guitar was big, full, and ringing--not sloppy, but also not being struck carefully to avoid mistakes.  Willie's most distinctive quality, it seems to me, resided in his phrasing and sense of time. In these areas, he was so much his own man, and definitely not a member of the musical herd adhering to formal conventions.  As a result, his phrasing could be angular, metrically irregular and yet swinging and danceable. Indeed, the infectiousness of his rhythm often masks the thorniness of his conception until you listen with an ear to figure out what he's doing, at which point you say, "Wait a second!"  He was fond of inserting chordal resolutions into forms in places where you are not accustomed to hearing them.  He was not a player who relegated the thumb of his right hand to any kind of regular time-keeping; it's the sign of a player very secure in his rhythmic sense, for you don't have to play the pulse for it to be there, ticking away, whether or not you state it explicitly.  In this respect, Willie Trice's playing is like Buddy Moss's or Lemon Jefferson's, and in a couple of instances it shares an even less common trait with Lemon's treatment of time:  a temporary suspension of pulse altogether, so that the musical idea is swimming freely until the time when he chooses to re-introduce the pulse.  It takes confidence to be comfortable choosing such a vertiginous course, but when it works, it's like magic.  Good for Lemon and good for Willie, and may the rest of us keep striving!

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