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Help us in our distress - Blind Willie Johnson, God Moves On The Water

Author Topic: Willie Lofton  (Read 1142 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Willie Lofton
« on: March 18, 2010, 05:01:16 PM »
Hi all,
If your listening to country blues goes back that far, you may have heard Willie Lofton for the first time, as I did, on the great old Yazoo anthology, "Jackson Blues", which featured his "Dark Road Blues", an exceptionally exciting tune of the "Big Road Blues" family, played in dropped-D  tuning. For many years, that was the only cut of Willie Lofton's I had heard, but his complete recorded works, 8 sides, were put out several years ago on the JSP set, "Big Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues".  
I've been listening a lot to Willie Lofton's tracks recently, and they're quite tantalizing, partially because he is evidently a biographical cipher, one of those blues musicians of whom next to nothing is known.  From the notes to the set it sounds as though he was a transplanted Mississippian residing in Chicago at the time he recorded his four sessions in 1934-35, and that he returned to Mississippi later, where he died.  Considering he only had eight titles to his name, Willie Lofton cut a pretty wide swath with his music.

Two of the tracks, "It's Killin' Me" and "Beer Garden Blues", are pretty modern-sounding sort of Pop novelty blues numbers, the first a guitar duet with one player (Lofton?) playing boom-chang back-up out of closed chordal positions somewhat akin to Mississippi Sheiks back-up and the other guitarist playing hot boogie bass lines.  For "Beer Garden Blues", Lofton is joined by the very smooth Black Bob on piano, along with an unidentified bass player and kazooist (Lofton himself?).

The remaining six titles are so different from the two already described as to seem implausible to have been made by the same player.  Two of the titles, "Poor Boy Blues" and "Rainy Day Blues", share the same melody and accompaniment, a particularly interesting one-chord blues out of G position in standard tuning.  These two songs of Willie Lofton's sound nothing like the other Mississippians who commonly played out of G in standard tuning at that time (that we've heard), either with regard to timing, licks or phrasing.  The sound seems to be Willie Lofton's own.  Two other songs, "Dark Road Blues" and "Dirty Mistreater", share the same melody and accompaniment in dropped-D tuning, a kind of crooked, super-charged version of "Big Road Blues".  Each of the two remaining numbers is a one-off, with "Jake Leg Blues" played in C in standard tuning and "My Mean Baby Blues" played in E position in standard tuning, and an unusual sound with a strongly emphasized major seven note in its bass runs.  Willie Lofton's "Jake Leg Blues" doesn't suffer by comparison with the "Jake" titles of Ishmon Bracey and Tommy Johnson, and that's saying something.  

Whether you're just looking for some interesting and different blues to hear or are seeking out forgotten material worthy of revival, these songs of Willie Lofton's are well worth giving a listen. On his solo material in particular, he really sounded only like himself, and he had a distinctive voice both as a singer and as a player.
All best,
« Last Edit: March 26, 2010, 06:34:29 PM by Johnm »

Offline jostber

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Re: Willie Lofton
« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2010, 07:54:26 AM »
I got that Big Joe set on JSP. Will check out those Willie Lofton tracks again, thanks for the recommendation. Always nice to hear Black Bob as well. Willie Lofton's tracks are also on this Document compilation:

Offline banjochris

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Re: Willie Lofton
« Reply #2 on: April 10, 2010, 01:11:17 PM »
Was listening to Lofton for the first time in a long time this morning, thanks to John's mention, and it occurred to me that "My Mean Baby Blues" is a thinly disguised version of Ed Bell's "Mean Conductor Blues," at least musically. He transforms the treble run at the end of the lines into a bass run, but listen and see if you agree.

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