A guy who was significant for me in my youth died last week, his name was Samuel Charters, he was a blues and jazz historian. There’s an interesting daily interview program on the radio here, it’s ‘Fresh Air’; a couple of days ago they played an interview with him from the archives.
He, along with Alan Lomax, was researching southern country blues in the ’40’s, recording totally unknown blues artists on primitive tape recorders long before Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and John Mayall et. al. were out of short pants. One memorable album was ‘Blues in the Mississippi Night’ by Lomax, used copies are now going for close to $100 at Amazon, it was my first blues album and it went the way of all the others come the divorce. I hope my ex wife is still computer illiterate.
During the interview he mentioned getting a contract with Folkways records, one of my early favorites, this prompted me to pull several early blues from my collection to see if his name was on any of them. One of them was ‘Big Bill Broonzy sings Country Blues’ on Folkways from 1957, he’s also interviewed on the record by Studs Terkel.
I’ve mentioned meeting Big Bill hereabouts and this LP relates directly to that.
I saw him perform several times, once in Ipswich and somehow I found my immature self backstage with him and Brother John Sellers after the concert, at some point he asked me ‘Is there somewhere around here where we can get something to eat at this hour,’ [about 9’30pm]
‘Sure’ I said. ‘I know a place’, so we adjourned and I spent a wonderful private conversation with him for the next hour or so.
From the early 50’s until I left the UK in 1958 there were many American jazz and blues artists performing throughout the UK, I saw as many as possible. At all of these concerts printed programs were sold, I always bought one and since I’d discovered the trick of backstage access at an early age I always had them autographed.
After hearing the Sam Charters interview and reviewing the Big Bill LP I told my wife about how one day in the early 60’s in Long Beach I had a stack of about a hundred of them in my hand and I recall saying ‘Why the hell am I hanging on to these? And I promptly dropped ’em all into the trash, I’ve no idea what made me do that but I’ve often thought about it and regretted it ever since. I also told her that obsessive that I was I always made lists of everything played at those concerts and then typed ’em up when I got home.
So when I pulled that LP from my collection and then pulled out the album, possibly for the first time in almost 60 years, lo and behold, there was the program with photographs signed by both Big Bill and also Brother John Sellers, I should mention that I habitually insert anything relevant into all my album sleeves. The next day whilst probing further I saw that there was something else in there, it was my typed up program notes!
Thank god I wasn’t totally stupid when I discarded all those autographed programs, I was smart enough to save one.
So here’s a taste of Big Bill talking and playing.