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Author Topic: Memories of Big Bill Broonzy  (Read 2967 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Memories of Big Bill Broonzy
« on: January 13, 2007, 01:40:56 AM »
I found the following on a floppy disk dated 1994. I think it was done for use by Harry Shapiro in his Korner biography. If so he only quoted a sentence! From Jazz Journal, March 1958 editorial page:


We have organised a Benefit Concert for Big Bill Broonzy.

On March 9th, at the Coliseum, many of Britain's leading musicians are donating their time and service for the purpose of raising monev to send to Bill Broonzy. All these people have personal thoughts, personal memories of Bill and it is this mixture of respect and affection which has produced such whole hearted response.

I first met Bill Broonzy at the start of his 1955 tour. It was with some trepidation that I rang him at the Shaftesbury Hotel within one or two days of his arrival. I was rather nervous of telephoning him being unused to ringing up great blues singers, and could only mutter a strangled greeting. This was done in the usual "You Don't Know Me But..." style, but his smooth, easy paced voice reassured me that I might yet survive the next four or five minutes. It was then arranged that Bill Broonzy and Yannick Bruynoghe, together with Max and Betty Jones, should come around on the following evening.

Having sweated steadily for some twenty four hours. and carefully hidden my guitar, I felt myself prepared to meet Big Bill Broonzy. By eight o'clock in the evening my wife, who had been viewing my mental and physical preparations with amused exasperation, began to show some concern at my rapidly declining state of health. Whilst I had not yet begun to twitch, this development seemed imminent and it was the sound of the doorbell which finally startled me back to the realisation that it was necessary for me to maintain some pretence of normal sanity. I trickled down to the hall and opened the front door. Outside stood Yannick Bruynoghe and Big Bill. I am told that I introduced myself quite coherently although I wonder ff my first words, whatever they may have been, had anything to do with the look of slight suspicion which remained with Bill for the next hour or so. Soon however everyone relaxed and, by the end of the evening we were all laughing heartily at Bill's jokes.

A few days later Bill Broonzy came to stay with us.

He loved to be with the children and the dog and it became quite normal to see Bill playing his Martin, with our 3 1/2 year old daughter sitting on his lap and the dog nibbling at his left hand as it moved up and down the fingerboard. Everyone was happy.

As he is a big man, Bill, not unnaturally, has a big appetite and he often sat down to a breakfast of two enormous chops, three fried eggs and quantities of bread. In fact, Bill's breakfast became one of the local sights as the children in our street queued outside the area railings to watch him 'dining' in the basement. I might mention here that, contrary to general belief, Bill did not drink a bottle of whisky either before or during his breakfast; a great disappointment to our daughter whose self imposed duty it was to pour out?a mania I might add which became a considerable burden to us after Bill's departure and which was heightened by Bill's return to our home in 1957, when our one year old son's determinated attempts to polish off the dregs of all whisky glasses increased the general mayhem!

We talked about baseball, about the blues, about cars and about children. We talked about fishing and we talked about politics.

Sappho, our daughter, had a fairly sound knowledge of standard blues verses, but Bill did not really approve of this. The blues were not for children and Bill did not think that they should be told about them but, accepting the situation. he liked to sing Sappho a song each night and. often it was a blues. But he would not just walk into the room sit down and sing. Bill Broonzy is a perfectionist and so, for five minutes before going in to Sappho, he would sit in his room and rehearse just to make sure that he sang as well as possible. Every performance had to be his best.

Everyone tried very hard to understand everyone else and to some extent, we were all. Probably successful for we became good friends.

Bill is proud and jealous of his music; he is good natured and temperamental. He can be difficult, as well as kind, sometimes quick to take offence but likes to act as a mediator in quarrels. In fact Bill Broonzy is a very human person. But Bill Broonzy is from another world than ours and it is with his own people that he will always be happiest?knowing them, he is secure in the knowledge that they know him.
Further to our announcement in last month's issue of the Big Bill Broonzy benefit concert to be held at the London Coliseum on Sunday March 9th, the following strong bill has now been finalised: Johnny Dankworth and His Orchestra the Dill Jones Trio, Humphrey Lyttelton and His Band, and Mick Mulligan and His Band. The following guest artists will also appear, Cleo Laine, Betty Smith, Sandy Brown, Al Fairweather, George Melly, Don Rendell, and Bruce Turner. The concert will be compared by Alan Lomax, Rory McEwen, Wilfred Thomas and it is hoped, Milton Mezz Mezzrow. Seats can be obtained direct from the Coliseum Box Office, prices 5/-; 7/6, 10/-, 12t6 and ?1/0/0.

A second benefit concert organised by the National Jazz Federation, is scheduled to take place at midnight on March 14th at the Dominion Theatre Tottenham Court Road. Donating their services to this concert is the Chris Barber Band. the Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group, and Ken Colyer's Jazzmen.

It is sincerely hoped that you will give these concerts the support they deserve.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Memories of Big Bill Broonzy
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2007, 12:42:08 PM »
Thanks very much for posting the piece, Bunker Hill.  Reading it reminded me of something I mentioned to you, that in the instances when I've gotten to spend some time with my musical heroes and gotten to know them a bit, I've found that my interest in them as people has supplanted my musical interest in them.  It's funny, because you might think that having such access to someone you admire would result in non-stop questioning of a musical nature. Far from it, though, when I spent a good bit of time with Sam Chatmon, after the initial excitement of meeting him, we pretty much shelved musical discussions and just talked about his family, dogs he had had, jobs he had worked, and life advice sorts of things.  Getting to know someone a bit does have the effect of making you feel like you have a stronger sense of where their music comes from and what it means to them, but you find yourself less and less admiring the music for its own sake, or in the broad context of the Country Blues, but more simply loving it because your friend made it.  The piece is nice because it tells you a lot, not only about Big Bill Broonzy, but about Alexis Korner and his family.
All best,

Offline daddystovepipe

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Re: Memories of Big Bill Broonzy
« Reply #2 on: January 15, 2007, 02:13:30 PM »
The first blues I ever heard on the radio, when I was 14, was Big Bill playing "St Louis Blues".  He recorded that song in Antwerp/Belgium, where I was born.  The short song was used for a radioprogram called "Jazz Blues" and it got me hooked on listening and playing the blues ever since.  So you'll understand I have a soft spot for Big Bill, thanks for posting above piece. 
For those who don't know it yet : there's a wonderful double cd issued by Munich Records (MRCD275 Big Bill Broonzy "Amsterdam Concerts 1953") with unissued material of two Big Bill concerts in Holland.  The recording quality of these concerts is excellent.  Furthermore the cd's come with a 47 page booklet that gives you a great view of Big Bill's live abroad. There are 38 illustrations of Big Bill performing, relaxing among his friends, pushing his son's pram  (he had a Dutch girlfriend), posters about his concerts, photo's about his burial and much more.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Memories of Big Bill Broonzy
« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2008, 04:46:28 AM »
As this week marks the 50th anniversary of his death I thought I'd bump this up front...

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Memories of Big Bill Broonzy
« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2008, 02:07:27 PM »
he first blues I ever heard on the radio, when I was 14, was Big Bill playing "St Louis Blues".

Also one of the first pieces I heard and still one of my faves. Nobody swings like Big Bill.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)


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