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Man, don't ever take a drink from an open bottle. You don't know what might be in it - Sonny Boy Williamson II, (reportedly) to Robert Johnson Aug 13 1938

Author Topic: Roosevelt Sykes in Britain 1961  (Read 807 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Roosevelt Sykes in Britain 1961
« on: November 16, 2011, 12:32:24 AM »
What follows comes from Jazz Journal March 1961 p. 13-14 when Roosevelt and Jimmy Cotton were in the UK 21-30 January 1961. It veers of at the end into reviews of Little Brother Montgomery discs but....

Nightmare to OCR due to yellowing paper but hope I've caught all the glitches. I've gone boss-eyed with it so any I've missed I apologise.

Blues On Record
Derrick Stewart-Baxter

Unsung and completely unheralded, there arrived in Great Britain a few weeks ago one of the greatest of all the bluesmen   Roosevelt "The Honeydripper" Sykes. So little publicity was given him that he played his first sessions at Jazzshows Club while most people were still awaiting his arrival in the country. What happened to the advance news of this visit? Surely someone was sadly at fault? However, when the word did finally get around, the enthusiasts turned up in force, and many a familiar face could be seen round the stand. As the famous "Honeydripper" cracked down on the blues even the less informed were astounded by the forceful piano and the powerful voice   a voice as rich and blue as indigo. One felt the ubiquitous microphone was completely unnecessary, and it can be said without exaggeration that Sykes played the toughest, rawest piano ever heard in a British jazz club. This sort of music will never date, because it is basically honest; it preaches the eternal verities. In the language of the jazz musician, it's "the truth".

A few days later Roosevelt Sykes graced my hometown (Brighton) with his presence, and the Chinese Jazz Club rang with the sound of the blues. I cannot tell you how thrilling it was to hear in person those songs we knew so well from Roosevelt's records. I had a long talk with him in the dressing room between sets, and found him a most charming person with a real regard and deep love of the blues. Having been on the scene for so long he knew most of the great singers of the past. His first influence was an almost unknown singer and pianist, Lee Green, though from what I have heard of Green, I could find very little resemblance between the two men's styles. "Lee died some years ago, about 1945, 1 think. Just like poor Fats Waller, in a train on the way to a job; it was a heart attack. They both died while working." I asked him where Green came from, but he was not certain as to the actual place of birth. "He was a Mississippi man from around about Vicksburg way", was all he could tell me. "He was one of the greatest'. he added.

Roosevelt has tremendous faith in the blues. As he said "You hear them on juke boxes everywhere, all sorts, country and city style. Perhaps that's where the future lies more artists on records and less live performances. Anyway. I'm telling you, they are very much alive today. Why I could take you to any number of clubs in both Detroit and Chicago where you would hear wonderful music, and there is always some one new coming along. Many of the best never get on record, and those that do may make only a couple of sides and then disappear, but more and more are getting the breaks as time goes on. No, you have no need to worry." Roosevelt's last words as he left me were in praise of the British fans: "They really understand the blues, and I am very pleased with the wonderful way I have been received over here."

One of the most rewarding ventures has been these presentations of American blues singers by Jazzshows   or perhaps "courageous" would be a more fitting word, for I can assure readers the financial reward has been extremely small. Having acted for them in an advisory capacity I know only too well the heartaches and worries of such tours. It is a thankless task, and we should be grateful to Ted Morton and co. for their efforts in this field. There have been some wonderful thrills during the past year, but there have also been some disappointments. One such was Little Brother Montgomery. I had hoped for great things from this veteran blues singer and pianist, yet when I first heard him I was immediately conscious that something was missing. Here was a man who had composed such classic blues as Vicksburg Blues and Farish Street Jive, yet there was a lack of conviction in his work. I got the impression that Little Brother was no longer really interested in the blues. He sang his old successes and the voice sounded just the same, but one could not fail to notice the lack of any genuine feeling or warmth.

Later, when I had an opportunity of talking with him, I found that I was not far wrong. Little Brother had grown away from the blues. Years of playing popular music had taken its toll, and only on one occasion was I to hear the real Little Brother at a concert in Brighton. He had spent the previous evening at Francis Smith's house, and far into the night Francis had played him records and talked about the past. By the time Brother arrived for the show, he was back with the blues; the result was tremendous.

I wish I could say the same about Little Brother Montgomery Plays And Sings And Ken Colyer Blows Trumpet (Columbia 33SX 1289). In spite of Max Jones' very favourable review in the "Melody Maker", I can find very little merit in this sad record. This is Montgomery at his most casual, going through what is to him a boring routine. There is a surprising lack of timing in his piano playing, as if his hands were not quite co-ordinating with his brain, which is noticeable on almost every track. Alexis Korner plays practically inaudible guitar on some of the titles. Poor Alexis will soon become known as "The Whispering Guitarist" if he does not produce more volume and feeling for the music when recording. But whatever enthusiasm he lacks on the disc he has saved for his sleeve notes. I really cannot agree that Buddy Bolden's Blues is "a wonderfully delicate performance." Unless by delicate Alexis means sickly. Ken Colyer, "without doubt the finest blues trumpet in this country", according to Alexis, seems to be most uneasy. I fully realise that Ken's aim is the hesitant trumpet style of such fine New Orleans musicians as Dee Dee Pierce, but I am afraid that on this session Colyer was not at his best. Possibly he, too, was brought down by the whole depressing affair. Ken is very much a man of moods, and his basic honesty often makes him play badly if something is not quite right.

On the credit side is New Vicksburg Blues, if only for the new lyrics, but even this is hardly an inspiring performance. Canadian Sunset is the complete giveaway: this is the sort of music Montgomery wants to play. The trouble is, he doesn't play it very well. We are told that "This wins a place by virtue of its position as one of Brother's own pet numbers", but this is not really a valid reason for including such a dull performance. Old Maid Blues produces a vocal which is slightly better than most (or is it perhaps because I like the number?) and even at his dullest there is still enough of the country quality (as Mr. Korner terms it) in Brother's singing to interest me. However, I cannot recommend this record to anyone but the most fanatical collector.

A very different and much more worthwhile L.P is the latest Memphis Slim on Jazz Collector JGN 1004. Slim, by his charm and sheer artistry, won the affection of everyone who heard him last year. He was perhaps the most popular blues singer to visit us since the late Big Bill Broonzy, and this record has caught him at his very best. Here is the great singer and pianist in a most relaxed mood. The session took place in Britain and was organized by Colin Pomeroy who, being a blues lover, was determined that this would be something worthy of the artist in question. He therefore left the choice of material entirely to Slim, putting no restrictions as to playing time. This complete freedom has paid off handsomely. I can honestly say I have never heard Memphis Slim sound better, even in person. On some tracks we almost hear once again the silent guitar of Alexis Korner, but there is some fine sympathetic drumming by Stan Greig. It is a wonderful roaring blues disc, with some slow dragging stuff to make a contrast. There is a magnificent new version of his famous Beer Drinking Woman under the title of Memphis Tennessee and a completely new one (to me) Caught The Old Coon At Last. Another highlight is the superbly swinging piano solo Chicago Stomp. It is hard to believe that all this was going on in the cold atmosphere of a recording studio - this is the stuff of which blues are made. I cannot praise it too highly. I am delighted to say that Alexis Korner has written a very good sleeve note for this, for here he has something on which he can go to town with complete honesty. There is an EP to come, and already issued is a 45 with two other items from the session - How Long Blues/Pinetop's Blues (JDN 102). This too, can be recommended without reservation.

[edit: corrected scan error in para 2, 'war' to 'way']


« Last Edit: November 16, 2011, 07:30:16 PM by Rivers »

Offline Rivers

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Re: Roosevelt Sykes in Britain 1961
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2011, 07:27:55 PM »
Thanks Bunker. Only scanning error I found in the Rooosevelt Sykes section was

"He was a Mississippi man from around about Vicksburg war' - s/be 'way'

I will correct it in place.

 


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