Minneapolis's Pat Dawson talks to the Cat Daddy
"Man, we was jumpin' like crazy"
0n May 7th, guitarist Sonny "Cat Daddy" Rodgers died of heart failure. B&R had planned this feature earlier this year to coincide with a new CD release by Sonny and a planned UK tour. We have dedicated this issue to the memory of Sonny and we have left the interviews with Sonny and Mojo Buford just as they had been prepared. Sonny had been a mainstay of the Minneapolis blues scene for almost 30 years and was beginning to get recognition as one of the Twin Cities top bluesmen. Born in the delta his first records were field recordings made for Alan Lomax and his father Lee Rodgers was a contemporary of Howlin' Wolf. Pat Dawson began the interview by asking Sonny about his early life in Arkansas.
Well I was born December 4th, 1939 in Hughes, Arkansas, and my real name is Oliver Lee Rodgers. My family hailed from Mississippi but I hail from Hughes. My mother, Marie Rodgers, she had eighteen children, but we got eleven left and I'm the oldest of the boys! My daddy, Lee Rodgers inspired me to get started, 'fact I got started playing his guitar. He was monkeying around with Howlin' Wolf in those back juke joints down south back in the late Forties. This was before Wolf got real tight with the music. My daddy was playing those juke joints and he met Howlin' Wolf, just like the average band does. they just got together y'know. This was before they had electric guitars and amplifiers, acoustic guitars was all they had. I really didn't know Howlin' Wolf 'till I got grown up when I moved up to Chicago, my daddy kinda lost touch with him, but even back then he was using the name Howlin' Wolf, but we knew his real name was Chester Burnett.
"Back then, when I was a kid in the delta the big blues artists were BB King, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, all those King Biscuit guys and after I kinda growed up, when I was about seventeen or so, bands started to come through my town. Hughes and I was the only guitar player in town. So I got the chance to play. People have said somewhere that I played with the King Biscuit guys, Sonny Boy, Joe Willie Wilkins, those cats, but that's not true. sure I lisČtened to them on the radio and I heard them playing around the delta but those guys were a lot older than me! 20 years older than me! But I did play with Forest City Joe. He was on those recordings that I made for Alan Lomax. I was about nineČteen or twenty years old then. This was when I was still around Hughes. Arkansas which is near to West Memphis. I had people there, so although I didn't live in Memphis I kinda visited there it was easy for me to travel there."
"I WAS PICKIN' COTTON ....."
"How did I come to make those recordings with Forest City Joe? Well, Alan Lomax came through town onetime, this would be about 1959 and he asked me to make some recordings, I wasn't a professional musician then, I was pickin' cotton!! These were with Forest City Joe, he told Alan Lomax that he wanted me to back him. I ain't never heard those records since we done them! (The recordings Sonny refers to are two albums called 'Blues Roll On" and "Roots Of The Blues" recorded by Alan Lomax as field recordings and issued on Atlantic 1352 and 1348 respectively, other artists appearing on the albums are Fred McDowell, Lonnie and Ed Young and Vera Hall)."
"I moved down to Texas for two years, had my own group down there. Then my sister, she had moved with my family to Minneapolis, asked me to come up here 'cos they didn't have no blues here so I come to play some! All my sisters, brothers, my mother, they live here, my daddy, he died here. We was the first ones here with blues music, me and Mojo Buford."
"Mojo was already here in Minneapolis. He was playing this bar and getting together musicians and somebody told me: "There's a blues band around here Sonny and they gather a real crowd." This was Mojo and Pat Hare, he was the best guitar player around here 'till I moved in! Nah! I'm just kiddin' (Laughs). Pat was a great player he played with all the great bands out of Chicago. JoJo Williams, he came here with Mojo and we went back to get Lazy Bill Lucas, the piano player and we put together our own band right here in Minneapolis, this would be about twenty eight years ago. (In 1970 Jeff Titon recorded an a/bum with Lazy Bill Lucas featuring Sonny Boy Rodgers on one track and Mojo Buford on three tracks). We had no blues here 'till we started it. Then Baby Doo (Leonard Caston) he came up here too, I played shows with him, but never recorded with him. After that I played around Minneapolis and got the name Cat Daddy! I got that from the name some of the girls named me. See, I was playing this bar and I had this song with the lines "I'm makin' out Cat Daddy", so they called me Cat Daddy from there on in!"
"I HAD A DIFFERENT GUITAR EVERY NIGHT"
"Now after a while Muddy Waters came up here and got Mojo to go on tour with him, then Mojo came back for me and I got with Muddy, this would be around 1972 when Sammy Lawhorn got hurt. I replaced Sammy in Muddy's band. I toured with Muddy for maybe about eighteen months on and off but I never got to record with him, never did. But I loved being with Muddy's band, loved every bit of it! Muddy have everything you needed to play with, didn't need your own equipment because he had this basement full of guitars where people done gave them to him. So I would just go down to the basement and pick out me out a guitar and amp and go! So I had a different guitar everynight!
"We went out on the road with Muddy for about two weeks at a time because he couldn't stay out there too long he had to come back in and get his rest. He wasn't on the crutches at the time, this was after his accident, but he wasn't really fit enough to go out on the road for a long spell. At the time Muddy's band had Willie "Big Eyes" Smith on drums, Calvin "Fuzz" Jones played bass and Mojo blowed harp and me, Muddy and Pee Wee (Madison) played guitars and we had Otis Spann on piano. Man, what a group, we was jumpin' like crazy! Then I did that album with Mojo on Mr. Blues Records called "Mojo Buford's ChiČcago Blues Summit" with Sam Lay on drums, Smokey Smothers, Pee Wee and Ernest Johnson on bass. I did guitar on that and a vocal, "St. James Infirmary", Bobby Bland number, with Smokey, then I had me my own group called The Cat Scratchers, we was together for about five years. After me and Mojo broke up I was lookin' for a band and they came to me and said: "Look man, why don't you use our band?" So we got to rehearsing, got down real good. This was Brad Moe, the drummer, John Wickstrom, Pat Dawson, Curtis Blake on harp and a one armed piano player called The Hook, they was all part time musicians, now I'm full time. And now I got a new band, with horns, we been playin' all round St. Paul, Minneapolis and we have a new album out made up of the stuff from the Cat Scratchers and the new band called The Baby Boys and we hope it will be a dynamite album!"
Many thanks to Pat Dawson for interviewing Sonny. Besides the records mentioned in the interview, the Mr. Blues album was also released by Rooster Records and a cassette featuring eight numbers by The Sonny Rodgers Blues Band along with the Blue Moon 45 can be obtained from P0 Box 10864, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55458, USA. Thanks also to Ken Smith at Red Lick and Alan Balfour.
(Blues & Rhythm 54, August 1990, p. 11)