PROGRAM: Roosevelt Sykes: Roosevelt's Blues; The Way I Feel; "44" Blues; Ten And Four Blues; All My Money Gone Blues; Lost All I Had Blues; Henry Ford Blues; Poor Boy Blues; Lee Green: Train Number 44; Death Alley Blues; All My Money Gone; Death Bell Blues; Maltese Cat; Memphis Fives; Number 44 Blues; The Way I Feel; Roosevelt Sykes: 32-20 Blues; Hard Luck Man Blues; Give Me Your Change; Kelly's Special; No Settled Mind Blues; Kelly's 44 Blues; You So Dumb
I purchased this CD a couple of days ago. It is a new Yazoo re-issue in a mini-series of piano blues put together by the English collector Francis Smith (There is also a Charlie Spand CD in the same series that I have not heard yet). This re-issue is particularly interesting in that it includes early recordings by Roosevelt Sykes one of the greatest Blues pianists and singers, and his primary early influence, Lee Green, recorded around the same time.
The Sykes tracks are tremendous. On a few of them, "The Way I Feel", "All My Money Gone Blues" and "Henry Ford Blues" he is joined by a guitarist identified on the record label as Oscar Carter. On the basis of Carter's sound, you would have to say he was Clifford Gibson, and Henry Townsend identified him as such on that basis. Sykes evidently insisted, though, that the guitarist was in fact Oscar Carter, an altogether different musician. Yet another blues mystery, I guess. Sykes's time, rhythm and imagination are impressive throughout his numbers, to say nothing of his singing, which is stellar (though better in his later life, I would say). For any of you who have the early Sykes re-issue on Yazoo, # L-1033, there are six out of Roosevelt's fifteen cuts here duplicated from the earlier record--not an excessive redundancy.
Lee Green is a treat. He sounds like an older man, and though at this time in his career he may not have had the technique or fire of Sykes, he seems to have had a more nuanced touch and harmonic sense. He sang with a suave tremolo. Three of his songs are also recorded here by Sykes, so it is really interesting to compare their versions of "All My Money Gone", "44 Blues" and "The Way I Feel". I would say my particular favorites of Green's are "Memphis Fives", which is dangerously catchy, and "Death Bell Blues", which has some far-out harmonies, a la Walter Davis. One thing interesting about both Green and Sykes, at this period of their careers, is that neither was formally consistent--both are often short a beat in the third bar of the form.
Like many of the blues that came out of St. Louis in the pre-war period, the songs here have exceptionally good lyrics. The excellent and informative liner notes are by Bob Hall, a colleague of mine at the European Blues Association Blues Week last summer, and a fine blues pianist in his own right. (Bob will be at this summer's session in August as well.) The performances on this CD are great, whether just listened to and enjoyed for their own merits, or mined for repertoire. I've really enjoyed this CD so far, and I'm sure I will continue to do so.