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Surprisingly small number of solo guitar/vocals recorded by Chicago players

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Hi all,
In purchasing DG&R and working with it the past couple of years, I noticed a surprising (to me) trend: the relative lack of solo guitar/vocal numbers recorded by Country blues players living in Chicago in the 20s and 30s. Looking at just two of such players, Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red, both of whom were stellar guitarists and strong singers, we find the following numbers in their pre-War recordings in the above category:
   * Big Bill Broonzy had 18 solo guitar/vocal numbers released (he recorded a few additional ones that were not released) in the pre-War period, with the last of them, "Long Tall Mama", being recorded on March 30, 1932.
   * Tampa Red had just two (!) solo guitar/vocal numbers released in the pre-War period, "Turpentine Blues" and Western Bound Blues", both recorded on May 7, 1932. Tampa Red did have a surprising, or maybe not so surprising, number of solo guitar instrumentals released, 10.

How is one to explain the record companies giving up so soon on doing solo recordings by these artists? There are a number of possible factors that occur to me, all of which are conjecture.
   * Chicago was such a center for Jazz during this period that the record companies may have assumed that nobody, or at least fewer of the record-buying public would be interested in purchasing anything as old-fashioned and out of it as a solo guitarist accompanying his own singing.
   * Tampa Red's case may have been affected by his recording with Georgia Tom of the enormous hit, "Tight Like That", at his very second recording session, on September 19, 1928, after which the record company may have assumed that continuing to record with that instrumental sound would make for a better chance of having another hit of that magnitude.
   * Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red themselves may have felt that their solo recordings were less appealing to the public than their ensemble and duet numbers, and might have lobbied for at least duet recordings.

Like I said, all of the above is guesswork, but the solo recordings that both of these musicians did in the post-War period make it pretty obvious that their pre-War solo numbers didn't even scratch the surface of their solo repertoires and what they were able to do operating as solo performers.

All best,

That's an interesting ponder there Johnm.  I like your number 1 guess, but for reasons intimated in guesses 2 and 3.  I think of Chicago as an incubator of artistic expression (and to this day, based on both of my sons experience)... such a rich environment for collaboration that musicians could not help but want to play together.  And producers liked what they heard.

Over simplified, but I'm sticking with it.:)

Interesting observation, John. The Great Depression and its adverse effect on record sales may have been a factor. Given economic conditions and the amount of discretionary income people had to spend on entertainment, perhaps the demographics and preferences of the record buying public had something to do with it. Maybe when budgets were tight, people tightened up on what they bought. But that's a guess, one, I'll be the first to admit, is based on ignorance of what was actually happening at the time.

Dancers prefer ensembles to solo performers. As a jazz center in the 20s and 30s, Chicago clubs (like New Orleans clubs before them) catered to dancers. It would be a couple-three decades before jazz became a musical form where people sedately sat at tables sipping overpriced drinks and just listening to the music rather than squeezing onto dance floors. My guess is that the same situation was true for blues clubs and blues-oriented rent parties/house parties in Chicago--the dancers preferred trios or bigger groups for a danceable feel.

I'm not offering this as "the answer," just one of several possible factors resulting in John's observation.


Good point, Lindy.


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