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Everybody lost their style after Whitney and Mariah. There's no depth. No taste. It's like cooking collard greens and not putting any meat in them - James Brown, upon turning 70, who was getting ready to take his jumpsuits and high heels on the road again during the summer of 2003. The hardest working man in showbiz has a lot to say about music today, and he doesn't sugarcoat it

Author Topic: Big Boy Henry  (Read 1563 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Big Boy Henry
« on: January 26, 2008, 05:46:22 AM »
For those who may not have noticed Stefan is in the process of building a Big Boy Henry discography. To this he's kindly added a couple of magazine reprints at

http://www.wirz.de/music/henryfrm.htm

Big Boy Henry's first release really caught on. Here follows a review from Juke Blues 12, Spring 1988:

Big Boy Henry
I'M NOT LYING THIS TIME:
His First Recordings 1947?1952
Swingrnaster (Dutch) 2114


Richard' Big Boy' Henry was born in Beaufort, North Carolina, in 1921. His recording history is strange. Some time in the late 1940s he went to New York to record for King Records but he 'got hoarse' and the session was cancelled. Later he was asked to record for Bob Shad and did so with Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry and unknown drums and piano. The songs were never released, though, because the tapes 'got lost on a bus'. In the 1980s he recorded a single for Audio Arts Records and had an abortive contract with Biograph, while putting out his own cassette on Home Town Records, which he sold himself. It would be interesting to hear these.

But in 1947 he got a job with a record store in New Bern, N.C., which had a connection with a now defunct radio station. The shop owner had one of the latest reel-to-reel tape recorders, a Webcar, which used 'a sort of paper tape'. Big Boy used to record himself in rehearsal, and kept a 7" tape which forms the bulk of the tracks on this LP. It's not stated, but the 1952 tracks I'm Getting Tired Now' and 'Trying To Get Back Home' were presumably recorded in the same way.

Big Boy says that some of the 7" tape 'got real sticky and is no good but some of it still sound good'. It's a remarkable fact about these recordings, given the deterioration of the tape, that the sound is so good that without this information you'd swear they were modern studio recordings.

Big Boy Henry's own musical background is diverse. His mother had a collection of early blues 78s, including Blind Lemon, and he learned off several singers in the area, including two 'Guitar Shortys' - one from South Carolina and the other from Alabama. But he collected records too, especially Blind Boy Fuller and Buddy Moss. Big Boy began playing with another guitarist, Fred Miller, who knew a lot of Fuller songs; and in fact Fuller is the most distinctive influence on Big Boy's guitar and vocal styles, especially in the 1947 recordings.

Most of the songs here are slow to medium paced blues, accompanied by acoustic guitar and (on some tracks - but not all, as the discographical details suggest) by a tambourine tapped, presumably, with the foot. I could have done without that, as the regular on-beat is rather repetitive and tends to undermine the more subtle guitar work.

There are good versions of some blues standards including 'Wild Cow Moan' which Big Boy performs very much in the Fuller style, his voice a medium, slightly husky tenor.

The best sides, though, are the two 1952 recordings (without tambourine), where Big Boy's guitar style has become both sparer and lighter, while there is a greater intensity of voice.

Fuller's influence is less in evidence here?there's a self created quality to the guitar work, reminiscent in some respects of Robert Pete Williams (not an influence, obviously) and John Lee Hooker (who may have been one). The climax is the almost six-minute 'Trying To Get Back Home', a slow, hesitant blues with a drawn out vocal line often ending in a moan, over a memorable guitar accompaniment which makes great use of tremolo, whined sliding of the treble strings across the frets, and the E and B strings run into the same, held note. The song is on the well-known theme implied in the title, but this version is a very powerful personal expression of it.

Swingmaster promise a further LP of 1980s recordings. It will be interesting to see how they compare, and whether Big Boy Henry has developed the more introverted, intense style of the 1952 tape, or has returned to the adequate, but familiar Fuller style of the '47 tracks - which in terms of sound quality, as I say, could have been recorded yesterday.              John Barnie

Offline FrontPage

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Re: Big Boy Henry
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2008, 02:53:56 PM »
I'm not sure if Lightnin' Wells lurks here; however, my recollection is that when Big Boy passed, Lightnin' got his record collection. Also, Lightnin' hung out and played with Big Boy for several years. I'll contact him off-list and see if there is any anecdotal information he can add anything to this thread.
Cheers,
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Offline Stefan Wirz

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Re: Big Boy Henry
« Reply #2 on: January 29, 2008, 08:04:44 AM »
meanwhile Lightnin' Wells has sent me track lists and scans for the gaps ("There may be more I don't know about, but I think this is the complete output") ...
Thank you FrontPage for taking the initiative !
Stefan

Offline FrontPage

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Re: Big Boy Henry
« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2008, 10:22:20 AM »
Being unencumbered by knowledge is both a blessing and a curse: however, I occasionally take the pleasurable opportunity to assume the role of "switchboard operator" in this knowledge exchange! I'm glad Lightnin' was able to help you out with direct access to the mother lode.
« Last Edit: December 25, 2011, 01:26:03 AM by FrontPage »
Cheers,
FrontPage