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Author Topic: Texas Blues "The Gold Star Sessions"--Arhoolie CD 352  (Read 2655 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Texas Blues "The Gold Star Sessions"--Arhoolie CD 352
« on: November 19, 2004, 11:36:14 PM »
PROGRAM:  Gambling Blues--Lil' Son Jackson; Homeless Blues--Lil' Son Jackson; Cairo Blues--Lil' Son Jackson; Evil Blues--Lil' Son Jackson; Back To Santa Fe--Lee Hunter; Trying, Trying--L.C. Williams; You Never Miss The Water--L.C. Williams; Cruel Hearted Woman--Thunder Smith; Big Stars Are Falling--Thunder Smith; Hole In The Wall--L.C. Williams; Boogie All The Time--L.C. Williams; Rock Island Blues--Leroy Ervin; Blue, Black, and Evil--Leroy Ervin; Roberta Blues--Lil' Son Jackson; Freedom Train Blues--Lil' Son Jackson; Ground Hog Blues--Lil' Son Jackson; Bad Whiskey, Bad Women--Lil' Son Jackson; Santa Fe Blues--Thunder Smith; Black Woman--L.C. Williams; Strike Blues--L.C. Williams; You Can't Take It With You Baby--L.C. Williams; Jet Black Woman--Buddy Chiles; No Money, No Love--Lil' Son Jackson; Gone With The Wind--Lil' Son Jackson; I Won't Be Here Long--L.C. Williams; Angel Child--Andy Thomas; All The Way From Texas--Perry Cain Blues

This CD offers a program of songs originally recorded by Bill Quinn for his Gold Star label, based in Houston, between 1947 and 1952.  It gives an excellent picture of the state of Blues in that part of Texas in the immediate post-War period.  I purchased the CD because I noticed in the course of browsing the Arhoolie catalog on the internet that there were a number of cuts by Lil' Son Jackson on the CD.

The CD arrived this past Saturday and I have hardly listened to anything else since then.  There are a full 10 cuts by Lil' Son and they are sensational; really I can't praise them highly enough.  In this period, he was absolutely at the top of his game both vocally and instrumentally, and he was more versatile than I had imagined him to be.  Of the 10 cuts, 4 fall into what I think of as his characteristic sound in Spanish, "Gambling Blues", "Cairo Blues", "Roberta Blues" and "Bad Whiskey, Bad Women".  [Edited, 7/4/17, to add:  These songs are not in Spanish tuning but in DGDGBE tuning.]  As a template for multiple blues with essentially the same music but different lyrics I don't believe Lil' Son's sound in Spanish has ever been surpassed, and it is all made richer by his superlative singing.  Of the remaining 6 songs, four are in A, standard tuning, with the timely "Homeless Blues"  and "Freedom Train Blues" shining in particular.  Lil' Son's remaining two tracks, "Groundhog Blues" and "Gone With The Wind" are played in E standard.  His playing in standard tuning on the tracks in A and E show that he was very far from a one-trick pony instrumentally.  Lil' Son shows himself to be an outstanding and original lyricist on his songs here, too, in a class with people like JT Smith, Clifford Gibson and Walter Davis.

Another real eye-opener here is the work by Lightnin' Hopkins as an accompanist on guitar and piano (!?) for L.C. Williams, who recorded as Lightnin' Jr.  Lightnin's piano playing on three cuts, while not flashy, is perfectly serviceable and provides a rock steady accompaniment.  Lightnin's work as an accompanist on guitar, though, in particular on the cuts "You Never Miss The Water" and "Hole In The Wall" is really stellar, and much more flashy and sophisticated-sounding than what you would hear from him in later years on Prestige.  The CD liner notes allude to the fact that Lightnin' for a period of time accompanied Texas Alexander on the streets of Houston.  Well, the accompaniment to "You Never Miss The Water", in particular, has something of the same approach that Lonnie Johnson took in accompanying Texas Alexander--highly melodic and free form, with nothing explicitly stating the pulse in the bass.  Lonnie's playing in that context is my favorite of all his playing, but Lightnin' far surpasses him at his own approach here.  Truthfully, I had no idea Lightnin' had this kind of playing in him.  Shows you what I know!

The remainder of the program is piano blues, with one exception: the unknown Buddy Chiles, who does some great singing on "Jet Black Woman".  Lightnin's erstwhile musical partner, Thunder Smith, does "Cruel Hearted Woman", with very funny lyrics, "Big Stars are Falling" and "Santa Fe Blues".  The program concludes with the oddly unctuous vocal of Perry Cain on "All The Way From Texas".  I really like piano blues, but in this program, at least, the pianists are distinctly out-classed by the guitarists.

Chris Strachwitz's liner notes provide an interesting brief history of the Gold Star label.  It becomes apparent, as you read them, that this music could very easily have been lost altogether.  I don't think it is unfair to Bill Quinn to say that he learned the business as he went along, made his records on a shoestring and probably lost some tremendous performances through simple lack of knowledge of how to operate his own equipment properly.  That having been said, his heart was in the right place, and I think he had great taste in what he recorded. 

This is an exceptionally excellent Blues CD.  Virtually all the music on it is really good, and the work of Lil' Son Jackson and Lightnin' Hopkins is worth the price of admission on any number of individual cuts.  If you imagine that all Blues from the post-War period was insufficiently "country" and excessively governed by formal conventions, you need to hear Lil' Son Jackson.  Boy, was he great!
All best,
Johnm 

 
« Last Edit: July 04, 2017, 02:32:48 PM by Johnm »

Offline frankie

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Re: Texas Blues "The Gold Star Sessions"--Arhoolie CD 352
« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2004, 09:36:30 AM »
Well, the accompaniment to "You Never Miss The Water", in particular, has something of the same approach that Lonnie Johnson took in accompanying Texas Alexander--highly melodic and free form, with nothing explicitly stating the pulse in the bass.? Lonnie's playing in that context is my favorite of all his playing, but Lightnin' far surpasses him at his own approach here.? Truthfully, I had no idea Lightnin' had this kind of playing in him.? Shows you what I know!

That definitely got my attention - can't wait to grab a copy of this!

Online eric

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Re: Texas Blues "The Gold Star Sessions"--Arhoolie CD 352
« Reply #2 on: November 20, 2004, 10:17:23 AM »
I will second John's recommendation.  I have the LP version, and every tune is great.  In addition, Stefan Grossman has tabbed  a couple of the tunes in his Texas Blues Guitar book, including Gambler's Blues, a great tune with a driving, ominous feel.
--
Eric

Offline Rivers

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Re: Texas Blues "The Gold Star Sessions"--Arhoolie CD 352
« Reply #3 on: November 20, 2004, 12:31:42 PM »
That looks pretty indispensible, thank you for the review Mr. M.

Offline Slack

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Re: Texas Blues "The Gold Star Sessions"--Arhoolie CD 352
« Reply #4 on: November 20, 2004, 03:12:32 PM »
Thanks for the great review John - I ordered it immediately - Arhoolie ought to put you on retainer!

Cheers,

Offline Slack

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Re: Texas Blues "The Gold Star Sessions"--Arhoolie CD 352
« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2004, 01:31:32 PM »
John, I've been listening to this for several days and your review is no exaggeration.... what a great compilation.  And what a treat to hear Lil Son Jackson at the top of his game -- I did not think the 'Gambler's Blues' version on the "Blues Come To Texas" CD could be topped - but oh my.  And I think he sounds like a completely different person when playing out of standard... I had to look at the CD credits several times.  We'll have to put this one on the Juke.

Cheers,
slack

Offline Johnm

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Re: Texas Blues "The Gold Star Sessions"--Arhoolie CD 352
« Reply #6 on: December 04, 2004, 11:53:21 PM »
I'm glad to hear you are enjoying it, John.  Isn't that "Freedom Train Blues" a killer?  I know what you mean about Lil' Son sounding different in standard tuning.  Congrats on getting the Juke back up--you made a lot of people happy.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Slack

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Re: Texas Blues "The Gold Star Sessions"--Arhoolie CD 352
« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2004, 11:24:43 AM »
I'm glad to hear you are enjoying it, John.? Isn't that "Freedom Train Blues" a killer?? I know what you mean about Lil' Son sounding different in standard tuning.?

Yeah, it really is.  And I think his thumb, in general, is just a killer - giant thumb, rock solid.  Love the driving D base in his Spanish tunings songs.

Quote
Congrats on getting the Juke back up--you made a lot of people happy.

Hehe, Yeah ...there are a few Juke addicts out there!   Of course my spouse had mixed feelings me getting our interent connection working again - I was getting a lot of 'Honey dos' done (in addition to more guitar playing).  :P

Cheers,

Offline Johnm

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Re: Texas Blues "The Gold Star Sessions"--Arhoolie CD 352
« Reply #8 on: December 12, 2004, 03:17:20 PM »
Hi all,
The question about a harmonica presence on Decatur Street on another thread made me think of this CD, because, interestingly enough, there is not one note of harmonica on it.  I don't know if it just didn't happen to make it onto the recordings on this collection or whether it was unused/unpopular in Texas blues of this period (post-War to early mid-'50s).  We so often think of the harmonica as being an integral part of Country Blues music-making, but when you think about it, it crops up no more than sporadically on recordings of the pre-War era, and is quite often a solo instrument, rather than being played in ensemble.  It makes me wonder if the ubiquitous nature of the harmonica in present-day Blues might not owe more to the legacy of Brownie and Sonny and the great Chicago Blues harp players than it does to the Country Blues tradition in the larger sense.  Hmmm.
All best,
Johnm