April 21, 2017

480 Earl Scruggs (1924-2012), Lester Flatt (1914-1979), and the Foggy Mountain Boys “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” 1949

“The rockabillies were drawn to the rough-edged, rural-sounding performances in both black and white music, to the older styles closer to folk origins than to those of pop music—Bill Monroe, not Eddy Arnold; Big Boy Crudup, not Nat King Cole. Elvis Presley…grew up listening to the Opry. Elvis could sing a number of Monroe’s songs, particularly those performed and recorded with Monroe by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs back in the mid-forties” (Neil Rosenberg, Bluegrass: A History, 2005). 

479 Muddy Waters (1913-1983) “I Feel Like Going Home” 1947

“‘Muddy was playing when I was plowing,’ B. B. King remembered, ‘mules that is. When I first heard of Muddy Waters, I had never left Mississippi. Then finally we started to get records on him—“I Feel Like Going Home.” He had something that no one else had, and I loved to hear him play’” (Robert Gordon, Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters, 2002). 

Muddy Waters “I Feel Like Going Home”

478 Louis Jordan (1908-1975) and his Tympany Five “Let the Good Times Roll” 1946

After a seemingly successful show, Jordan told his band, “There were too many goofs tonight. I want to have a rehearsal at midnight when the theatre’s empty.” When the young tenor sax complained, the trumpet player told him Jordan was “’a perfectionist; everyone in the business knows that. He won’t stand for any horseplay or sloppy musicianship’. The saxist bristled. ‘Perfectionist? God damn it, I’ll show him what wrong notes are.’ The trumpeter sighed. He knew then that the band and the young man would soon be parting company” (John Chilton, Let the Good Times Roll: The Story of Louis Jordan and His Music, 1994). 

477 Louis Jordan (1908-1975) and his Tympany Five “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” 1946

The song “was one of many songs Louis devoted to domestic fowl, but its lyrics were a shade sharper and more humorous than his other salutes to the feathered world. The record was often played on the American Forces’ Network and became a great favorite with US troops stationed abroad” (John Chilton, Let the Good Times Roll: The Story of Louis Jordan and His Music, 1994). 

476 The Dixie Hummingbirds “Amazing Grace” 1946

“generosity, devotion to family, loyalty, perseverance, sacrifice, mentoring, and a wealth of immeasurable talent. Of all the groups that traveled the gospel highway, none succeeded better than the Dixie Hummingbirds at living up to these latter qualities.” Isaac Hayes said: “In the beginning, after the word, before rock ‘n’ roll, and before there was rap, hip-hop, disco, punk, funk, metal, soul, Motown, rock-a-billy, before bebop, doo-wop, and the big band swing, there was the Dixie Hummingbirds. The mighty Dixie Hummingbirds. They sang through the Great Depression, the terms of thirteen presidents, four major wars, five generations of Americans, and seven decades of the twentieth century” (Jerry Zolten, Great God A’mighty! The Dixie Hummingbirds, 2003).

The Dixie Hummingbirds “Amazing Grace”

475 Big Maceo Merriweather (1905-1953) “Worried Life Blues” 1946

“Big Maceo (Major Merriweather) was simply the most important blues pianist of the ‘40s and the greatest influence on Chicago’s postwar blues.” His wife, Rossell, said of him, “Everybody like him—all the policemens—he was a good condition person. He was very nice—he wasn’t a person to raise sand, fight, or nothing…I think he’d have been well, but he didn’t stop drinking.” A stroke in 1946 partially paralyzed him, ending his piano playing. He died of a heart attack (Mike Rowe, Blues Unlimited: Essential Interviews, 2015). 

Big Maceo Merriweather “Worried Life Blues

474 The Duke Ellington (1899-1974) Orchestra “Take the ‘A’ Train” 1941

When composer Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967) and “Ellington first met at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theater back in 1939, Strayhorn had inquired of Duke what was the best way to get to Harlem when he got back to New York. He was told ‘Take the A train,’ a route of the recently opened Eight Avenue subway line. This inspired him to use this line as the title of his composition.” Ellington made it his signature theme (A. H. Lawrence, Duke Ellington and His World, 2001). 

473 Big Bill Broonzy (1893/1898?-1958) “Key to the Highway” 1941

“Broonzy was drafted into the army during the First World War and shipped to France as part of the American Expeditionary Forces. He returned to Arkansas with a different outlook on life’s possibilities, seeing little opportunity in working as a field hand as farmwork became increasingly mechanized. Broonzy joined the trek of sharecroppers to the smokestack cities of the North—in his case, Chicago. Over time, he adjusted to urban life as a laborer and part-time musician, gaining a reputation as a blues singer who articulated the new outlook of the black working class. Broonzy later had the opportunity to introduce the blues of the black urban folk to white youths in the United States and Europe” (Roger House, Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy, 2010). 

472 The Andrews Sisters “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “(I'll Be with You in) Apple Blossom Time” 1941

“As Universal Studios cranked out movies featuring the sisters”—LaVerne Sophia (1911-1967), Maxene Angelyn (1916-1995), “Patty” Marie (1918-2013)—“happily singing the boys off to battle or camping it up in comedy escapist fare, the faces of the Andrews Sisters became increasingly familiar to the nation. Their upbeat songs filled the jukeboxes and distanced their listeners from the tragedies of the war. Live performances at military bases and appearances on the Armed Forces Radio Service personalized them to thousands of enlisted men at home and overseas…They are still the most successful female singing group in history, and until the Beatles came along they were the top-selling music group ever” (Arlo Nimmo, The Andrews Sisters, 2004). 

471 Bukka White (1909-1977) “Fixin’ to Die Blues” 1940

“Two years in prison could have left ruinous scars on a less powerful personality than Bukka’s. The loneliness and brutality could have embittered him to a point where further creative work would have been impossible. Instead it matured him. His ideas became deeper and more complex. Bukka emerged from prison with a head full of some of the finest classic bleus songs ever written…” “Fixin’ to Die Blues” “was inspired  by a friend and fellow guitarist who went into a coma and died in 1938, evidently in Parchman [prison]” (F. Jack Hurley and David Evans, Tom Ashley, Sam McGee, Bukka White, Tennessee Traditional Singers, 1981). 

April 7, 2017

470 The Cats and the Fiddle “I Miss You So” 1940

“The mid-tempo shuffle, with high tenor harmonies carried through the entire recording, included a tipple-led instrumental (a tipple is a long-forgotten 10-stringed instrument that looks like a small acoustic guitar and sounds like a ukulele). The song, later slowed down and recorded by the Orioles, is now a standard, but in early 1940 it was just another excellent black vocal-group recording unknown to the mass market. Still it was popular in black communities and enabled [lead singer] Austin Powell and company to continue their whirlwind schedule of national one-nighters, from the Apollo Theatre to elegant supper clubs” (Jay Warner, American Singing Groups: A History from 1940 to Today, 2006). 

The Cats and the Fiddle “I Miss You So”

469 Glenn Miller (1904-1944) and his Orchestra “In the Mood” 1939

“No Glenn Miller recording illustrates more dramatically Glenn’s remarkable ability  to take an arrangement, cut out all the extraneous parts, and reduce it to a beautifully constructed, workable gem…How those kids loved to jitterbug to ‘In the Mood’!” (George Simon, Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, 1974). 

Glenn Miller and his Orchestra “In the Mood”

468 Gene Autry (1907-1998) “Back in the Saddle Again” 1939

“As children, each of the Highwaymen”—Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson—“like so many others, had gone to Gene Autry movies on Saturday afternoons, listened to his music on the radio, and learned to play guitar on a Gene Autry Roundup Guitar ordered from the Sears catalogue…Serving as a road map out of rural poverty for Cash—and for so many other future artists—Gene Autry shone as the singing cowboy star whose radio programs, recordings, and movies in the 1930s and ‘40s made him one of America’s most celebrated entertainers” (Holly George Warren, Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry, 2007). 

Gene Autry “Back in the Saddle Again”

467 Benny Goodman (1909-1986) and his Orchestra “Sing, Sing, Sing” 1938

At this historic first performance of swing music in Carnegie Hall, “the kids in the audience were jitterbugging in their seats, and even some of the gentry in the boxes and dress circle had gotten up on their feet and were shagging in the aisles.” The 1950 recording release of the 1938 concert energized Goodman’s flagging career and reputation (Ross Firestone, Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life & Times of Benny Goodman, 1993).  

Benny Goodman and his Orchestra “Sing, Sing, Sing”

466 Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter 1889-1949) “Rock Island Line” 1937

Leadbelly learned the song while visiting prisoners at the Cummins Prison Farm in Arkansas and made it a staple of his performing repertoire. “So eager were they to hear and see Leadbelly that at times some stood on the shoulders of others. When the twanging of his guitar strings rang out, supporting his rich booming voice, silence fell in the rows of cells suddenly and completely…For the moment Leadbelly’s ‘sinful songs’ became more powerful than the ‘spirituals’” (Charles Wolfe, Kip Lornell, The Life and Legend of Leadbelly, 1992). 

Leadbelly “Rock Island Line”