Archive for the Blues Category

Champion Jack Dupree: Seminal Blues Man with a Coney Island Connection

Posted in Blues, Coney Island, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2017 by travsd

July 23 is one of the many possible birth dates given for boogie woogie, blues, and barrelhouse piano player William Thomas “Champion Jack” Dupree (circa 1909 – 1992).  Born and raised in New Orleans, Dupree was the son of a Congolese father and a mother who was mixed-blood African American and Cherokee. Orphaned at age eight, Dupree taught himself piano, and played in saloons and other establishments from  a young age. His stage name came from the fact that he was also a professional boxer in his younger years, and had won a Golden Gloves championship. (This may be one of the reasons for a speech impediment noticeable on some of his recordings, although there are also joking references to a cleft palate). Around 1940 he became part of the Chicago blues scene, although his career was interrupted by years of World War Two service, including two years as a Japanese prisoner. But after the war followed nearly five decades as a successful musician. He was an influence on Jerry Lee Lewis, and recorded with such major artists as The Band, Eric Clapton, John Mayall, and Mick Taylor. He co-wrote the song “Walkin’ the Blues”, covered by Willie Dixon, Otis Spann and many others.

This is our first entry in the blues section of Travalanche in quite some time, and we have a special reason for doing it. This year, Coney Island USA’s building on Surf Avenue turns 100 years old. The building began life as Child’s Restaurant, but for a time in the late 1940s and early 1950s, it was a music venue known as the Blue Bird Casino, where, for a while the house musician was….Champion Jack Dupree. Thanks, Dick Zigun, for the historical tidbit! You’ll be hearing more about the colorful history of the Child’s Restaurant building anon.

 

Memphis Minnie: Straddling the Blues

Posted in African American Interest, Blues, Music, Women on June 3, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Memphis Minnie (Lizzie “Kid” Douglas a.k.a. Minnie Lawlers, 1897-1973).

To me, she is one of the most incredible figures in blues history, on account of she straddles so many different KINDS of blues (yes, I pretty much meant that verb). Her recording career started in 1929. What is interesting to me is that she entered the field when it was dominated by female singers (Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith) and some of her records have that classic blues orchestration (largely piano driven). BUT (here’s where she’s almost entirely unique) she’s even better known for playing the rural style of Delta country blues; she didn’t just sing but she played guitar, and that was a field entirely dominated by men (guys like Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House etc etc). Furthermore, her career went long enough that she also entered the era of amplification and, the more urban big city Chicago blues of the sort we associate with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf etc etc that eventually led to rock ‘n’ roll). She is a bridge to everywhere.

Memphis Minnie grew up in Mississippi and Louisiana, started playing the banjo at age 10, and ran off to play guitar of Beale Street sidewalks in Memphis by age 13. (She also turned tricks to support herself — and her rough lifestyle shows up in her songs, whoo boy, did she record some dirty and rough and funny songs). She is also said to have toured for four years with Ringling Brothers Circus (1916-1920) as a musician.

To give you an idea of the many sounds and eras she spanned…

“Bumble Bee”, 1930 (country blues)

“Down in the Alley”, 1937 (classic blues)

“Night Watchman Blues”, 1949 (Chicago blues)

To find out more about show biz past and present consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Mississippi Fred McDowell: You Gotta Move

Posted in African American Interest, Blues with tags , , , , , on January 12, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Mississippi Fred McDowell (1904-1972). Despite his unambiguous association with a particular state (where he lived a good part of his life), McDowell was born in, and died in Tennessee. He worked as a farmer and cotton picker most of his adult life, playing slide guitar at dances and parties and such in his spare time. It wasn’t until he he was 55 years old that we recorded by folklorists Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins. Thereafter he was able play professionally for his remaining 13 years.

Here’s one of his most famous tunes, recorded in 1964, and covered by the Rolling Stones on their album  Sticky Fingers in 1971:

To find out more about show business past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. 

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And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Slim Harpo, “I’m a King Bee”

Posted in African American Interest, Blues, Music with tags , , on January 11, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the great blues musician Slim Harpo (James Moore, 1924-1970). Although just as adept at guitar, he is of course named after his other instrument, the blues harmonica. Originally known as Harmonica Slim, he was the brother-in-law of Lightnin’ Slim.

Both sides of his 1957 debut single (“I’m a King Bee” b/w “I Got Love If You Want It” became major blues and rock standards covered by countless American blues artists and British invasion bands over the years: the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, the Doors, etc etc. Other successes for Harpo included “Rainin’ in My Heart” (1961), “Shake Your Hips” and “Baby Scratch My Back” (1966). He died of a heart attack at the very young age of 46

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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R.I.P. Amiri Baraka

Posted in African American Interest, Blues, BOOKS & AUTHORS, OBITS with tags , , on January 9, 2014 by travsd

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Just got word that Amiri Baraka has passed on. I don’t know how comfortable I am with “Rest in Peace” — he certainly said and espoused a peck of heinous ideas over the years. He was always the farthest thing from “at peace”. Now that he’s dead, he probably still doesn’t want any anyway.

The part of his work I know best (really, at all) is from when he was still LeRoi Jones, when he wrote the seminal off-off-Broadway plays Dutchman (1964) and The Baptism and the Toilet (1967), and above all, his terrific book Blues People: Negro Music in White America (1963). I’ve written about 80 blues artists on this blog, and written a play about the blues. A lot of the inspiration to do those things came from Blues People. 

Rather than wade into the muddy waters of his controversial political beliefs (and his immoderate way of expressing them), I think I will recommend that you buy and read this one excellent book. I go back to it periodically for both information and inspiration: http://www.amazon.com/Blues-People-Negro-Music-America/dp/068818474X

More on his passing can be found here: http://www.nj.com/essex/index.ssf/2014/01/hold_hold_hold_amiri_baraka_former_nj_poet_laureate_and_prolific_author_dead_at_79.html

Sonny Boy’s Christmas Blues

Posted in African American Interest, Blues, Music with tags , , on December 5, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Sonny Boy Williamson II (1912-1965), not to be confused with the original Sonny Boy Williamson. Nor is this one the son of the original Sonny Boy Williamson. This is just another guy named Sonny Boy Williamson. His real name was Alex “Rice” Miller; he began using Sonny Boy’s name in the 1940s, even going so far as to claim that it was he who had used the name first, although the original was actually NAMED Williamson and had been called “Sonny Boy” at least since 1937. But the original died in 1948, leaving Sonny Boy II free to use that name for another 17 years.

To complicate matters further, the only thing phony about Sonny Boy II is the name. His music is mighty terrific. In honor of the season we give you “Sonny Boy’s Christmas Blues”:

For more on show business history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Sonny Terry

Posted in African American Interest, Blues, Music with tags , , , , , on October 24, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Sonny Terry (Saunders Terrell, 1911-1986). The North Carolina farm boy learned to play blues harp from his father and lost his eyesight due to injury by the time he was 16. Terry became a professional musician out of necessity, first playing with Blind Boy Fuller, and then establishing a long-standing musical partnership with Brownie McGhee which lasted from 1941 until his death.

Here are Sonny and terry playing the “Hootin’ Blues”:

To find out more about show business past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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For more on silent and slapstick comedy please see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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