Miscellaneous: Matchbox Bluesmaster Series – Set 8

Set 7 was supposed to be the last in the current series, so you can imagine my delight when Set 8 came through the door. Titled “Big Road Blues” and subtitled “1966-1972: The Tradition Continues,” the collection focuses more on individual artists than styles or themes.

Matchbox played an important role in the British blues boom of the 1960s and this set is devoted to recordings made in the USA between 1966 and 1972 by singers in the classic blues tradition. One album, Big Road Blues, had to wait 50 years to come out.

Disc 1 contains songs recorded in 1968 by historian Karl Gert zur Heide at Furry Lewis in Memphis. Fame never found Lewis, who performed mostly at house parties, fish fries and on the streets. There hasn’t been a spectacular Furry Lewis find, despite Joni Mitchell’s name dropping in her song Furry Sings The Blues. They are simple, yet traditional, vocal and guitar songs. Lewis was an old-school professional artist, but a true bluesman who knew how to play.

Disc 2 features Little Brother Montgomery’s piano playing. Often labeled as the last of the great barrel men, he was so much more in terms of style and versatility. Montgomery was another natural musician who learned his craft in the tough world of the working musician. According to Derrick Stewart-Baxter, “in his blues you can hear the melodic charm of his ballads; conversely, in his ballads (or most of them) the call of the blues is heard”. The disc also features vocals from Little Brother’s wife, Jan Montgomery.

Disc 3 features the songs of Tommy Johnson, albeit performed by several different musicians; they were once part of his repertoire. Johnson died before he could be rediscovered in the blues revival of the 60s, having recorded only 12 songs between 1928 and 1930. Johnson lived a colorful life that spanned nearly the entire history of folk blues development. This disc was originally released in 1972 and features artists such as Isaac Youngblood, Mager Johnson and Boogie Bill Webb. Sixties rock band Canned Heat was named after one of Johnson’s songs and Big Road Blues was recorded by several white artists, including Alexis Korner and John Sebastian.

Disc 4 contains field recordings made between 1966 and 1971 and was to be released by Saydisc in 1972 as an album to accompany the book Highway Blues, edited by Paul Olivier. The publishers went out of business before the book could be published, and the album was never released. The music features authentic folk blues and was recorded in the homes of musicians across the southern United States. He is not swayed by commercial considerations and feels less embarrassed and inhibited as a result.

Disc 5 features a collection of four exceptional singers (Scott Dunbar, James Thomas, Lee Kizart and Lovey Williams) who, in 1968, were still an integral part of the Mississippi blues tradition, although their styles differ dramatically. The recordings were compiled by William Ferris to accompany his book, Delta Blues.

Disc 6 is a collection of songs by Viola Wells (aka Miss Rhapsody). Wells is famous for pulling a needle out of a prostrate Billie Holiday and bringing her back on stage to perform. Before singing a perfect set, Holiday whispered a raspy dedication to “Miss Rhapsody.” Benny Carter said she was America’s greatest blues singer in the 1940s and saxophonist Jimmy Lunceford said she was “a cross between Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, but Billie never had so much voice than her, and Ella will never have her personality”. Although Wells retired in 1946, this set was recorded in New York in 1972 and was his first major recording in over 25 years. It’s a fabulous set of classics (including Down Hearted Blues, How Great Thou Art and See See Rider) and a fitting testament to the vocal talent of this lesser-known artist.

Once again Saydisc has outdone themselves with this latest release in the Bluesmaster series and I sincerely hope Set 9 is currently in the works.

CD1: Furry Lewis in Memphis (51.30)
CD2: Home Again – Little Brother Montgomery (44.15)
CD3: The Legacy of Tommy Johnson (42.56)
CD4: Big Road Blues (45.55)
CD5: Delta Blues (36.36)
CD6: Viola Wells: Miss Rhapsody
CD1: Furry Lewis (v, g). Memphis, Tennessee, September 6, 1968.
CD2: Little Brother Montgomery (p); Jan Montgomery (v). No registration details given.
CD3: Isacc Youngblood, Mager Johnson, Arzo Youngblood, John Henry “Bubba” Brown, Boogie Bill Webb, Houston Stackhouse, Babe Stovall (v, l); Roosevelt Holts (g). No registration details given.
CD4: Mott Willis, Robert Johnson, Isaac Youngblood, Willis Tatlor, Cary Lee Simmons (v, g). Field recordings from Mississippi and Louisiana, 1966-1971.
CD5: James “Son” Thomas, Scott Dunbar, Lovey Williams (v, l); Lee Kizart (v, p). Various locations, summer 1968.
CD6: Viola Wells (v); Ruben Jay Cole, Grace Gregory (p); Eddie Wright (m); Danny Gibson (d); Ivan Rolle (b). New York, April 22, 1972.
Matchbox MSESET8