The Blues Foundation has announced the inductees for the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010, including Louisiana-born, Chicago-based bluesman Lonnie Brooks, blues singer and harpist Charlie Musselwhite and singer, songwriter, guitarist and social activist Bonnie Raitt.
Among the other individuals that are being recognized by the Foundation this year include "The Father of the Blues" W.C. Handy, jug band pioneer Gus Cannon and Cannon's Jug Stompers, and the writer of many great "drinking songs," including "One Scotch, One Whiskey, One Beer," Amos Milburn.
American roots music writer Peter Guralnick and the legendary host of the King Biscuit Time program on KFFA radio in Helena, Arkansas Sonny Payne, are the non-performers being inducted this year. Sam Charters' groundbreaking research on the blues in the 1950s and '60s resulted in several books including this year's Classics of Blues Literature inductee - The Bluesmen.
The following singles or album tracks will be inducted during the ceremony: "All Your Love (I Miss Loving)" by Otis Rush, "Fever" by Little Willie John, "Key to the Highway" by Big Bill Broonzy, "Match Box Blues" by Blind Lemon Jefferson and "Spoonful" by Howlin' Wolf. These albums are also being honored: Strong Persuader by Robert Cray, Hung Down Head by Lowell Fulson and I Hear Some Blues Downstairs by Fenton Robinson.
The induction ceremony will be held on Wednesday, May 5, at the Memphis Marriott Downtown in Memphis, Tennessee, the night before the 31st Blues Music Awards. Plans are underway now individually honor each of the inductees that night.
The Hall of Fame committee, consisting of scholars, record producers, radio programmers, and historians, is chaired by Jim O'Neal, founding editor of Living Blues.
On May 6, the night after the Blues Hall of Fame inductions, The Blues Foundation will present the Blues Music Awards for the 31st time. Performers, industry representatives, and fans from around the world will celebrate the best in Blues recording, songwriting and performance from the previous year at the Memphis Cook Convention Center in downtown Memphis.
The presenting sponsors are The Gibson Foundation and BMI. ArtsMemphis, bandVillage, Casey Family Programs, Eagle Rock Entertainment, FedEx, I 55 Productions, Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Tennessee Arts Commission and Vividpix and Design also sponsor the Blues Music Awards.
Lonnie Brooks was born with the name Lee Baker, Jr., and made his first records under the moniker "Guitar Junior." But no matter what name he uses, Brooks has been a crowd pleaser for decades, blending his Louisiana/Texas R&B roots with the blues and soul sounds of Chicago to forge a strong musical identity enhanced by his songwriting skills and bright stage presence. Born in Dubuisson, Louisiana, on Dec. 18, 1933, Brooks says he didn't begin playing guitar until he was 22, in Port Arthur, Texas, but it didn't take long for him to land a record deal with the Goldband label. After moving to Chicago, he worked with Jimmy Reed, among others, playing guitar on Reed's classic recording of "Big Boss Man." Given the Brooks pseudonym by blues pianist and producer Billy "The Kid" Emerson, Lonnie established himself in the South and West side clubs and recorded for several labels, finally attracting the attention of European blues promoters and Chicago's Alligator Records. Brooks' extensive series of albums for Alligator and steady touring brought a new level of acclaim, and although his schedule slowed down in the new millennium, his sons Ronnie Baker Brooks and Wayne Baker Brooks have carried on the family blues banner in fine tradition. Lonnie and Wayne made their own unique contribution to the music as two of the rare blues musicians to be credited with co-authoring a guidebook to the blues in the 1998 publication Blues For Dummies.
One of the most prominent harmonica players of the past several decades, Charlie Musselwhite burst out of the vibrant Chicago blues scene in the 1960s to become a trendsetter for a new musical generation in California. Born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, on Jan. 31, 1944, Musselwhite began playing harp and guitar in Memphis, where he sought out blues veterans Will Shade, Furry Lewis, and others. He shared a Mississippi and Memphis background with many of the bluesmen he later met in Chicago and became a friend and disciple of harmonica maestro Big Walter Horton, among others. Finding a receptive audience for his music on the West Coast upon the release of his debut album, Stand Back! in 1967, Musselwhite quickly relocated to San Francisco and has lived in the area ever since although tours have taken him around the globe. Thousands of performances and dozens of albums later, Musselwhite remains a well-liked, world-famous, and highly influential musician whose work has been honored with numerous Blues Music Awards and Grammy nominations. Still drawn back to his roots, Musselwhite has become a familiar figure at events in Mississippi and Memphis, and has received a Mississippi Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts as well as a Brass Note on Beale Street's Walk of Fame.
While most of Bonnie Raitt's songs may fall outside the realm of blues, there is no doubting her commitment to and love for the music and the blues musicians themselves. Heavily influenced by, and sometimes mentored by, older blues veterans when she started out, Raitt not only sang soulfully but played bottleneck guitar in the style of Mississippi Fred McDowell. McDowell was one of many artists whose cause she championed over the years - others included Sippie Wallace, Charles Brown, and Ruth Brown. After she began to tour on the strength of her first albums in the 1970s, she often insisted that blues performers be booked as her opening act, and her manager, Blues Hall of Fame member Dick Waterman, also represented many of the top traditional and Chicago blues acts of the era. Raitt's highest level of commercial success came in the 1989 with the album Nick of Time and in the 1990s with Luck of the Draw and Longing in Their Hearts. Among her Grammy Awards was one for Best Traditional Blues Recording shared with John Lee Hooker in 1989 for their collaboration on "I'm in the Mood." Raitt also played or sang on blues albums by B.B. King, A.C. Reed, Sippie Wallace, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Ruth Brown, Charles Brown, Keb' Mo' and Joe Louis Walker. Her contributions to the blues have also included assisting artists in royalty recovery as co-founder of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, helping to fund headstones and memorials, and quietly, sometimes anonymously, donating money to blues singers in need. Bonnie Raitt's example is one that ought to inspire many other blues-influenced performers from the worlds of rock and pop music.
W.C. Handy was already being hailed as "The Father of the Blues" when the blues recording industry was still in its infancy. Handy's compositions and adaptations of blues he had heard in his travels began to be published in 1912 in an era when sheet music was the primary medium of musical dissemination. Various orchestras, military bands, and vaudeville singers began recording "St. Louis Blues," "Memphis Blues," and other Handy pieces before the record companies launched "race record" series in the 1920s to cater to a newly discovered market for African American blues, jazz and gospel music. Handy never became a prolific recording artist himself but retained a prominent position as a music publisher and as a nationally recognized spokesman for the music he did so much to popularize. Handy, who was born in Florence, Alabama, on Nov. 16, 1873, was well educated in music, and though he had heard early versions of blues songs in Alabama, Indiana, and Kentucky, he wrote in his autobiography Father of the Blues that it was his encounters with blues in the Mississippi Delta that enlightened him to the potential in the music. Historical markers have been placed in his honor in the Delta, and a statue of Handy was erected in 1960 on Beale Street, near the site where Handy first worked as a music publisher. Handy died in New York on March 28, 1958, just ten days before the premiere of the Hollywood film dramatization of his life story, "St. Louis Blues," starring Nat "King" Cole in the role of Handy.
Gus Cannon and Cannon's Jug Stompers
Jug band pioneer Gus Cannon, a seminal figure in Memphis blues, was born in Red Banks, Mississippi, in either 1883, 1884, or 1885, according to various sources. Cannon's primary instrument was the banjo, and he made his first recordings under the name "Banjo Joe" in 1927. Already in his forties at the time, he played songs that harked back to earlier black folk and minstrel tunes as well as blues, which was then a relatively more modern style. His most famous records were as the leader of Cannon's Jug Stompers, a group that featured harmonica virtuoso Noah Lewis and guitarists Hosea Woods, Ashley Thompson, or Elijah Avery, with Cannon on banjo, jug, and vocals. The band's 1928-30 recordings for the Victor label not only established them as important artists of the era but also had an impact decades later when folk and rock acts began to revive elements of the jug band style and repertoire. The Grateful Dead recorded Cannon's "Viola Lee Blues," among others, and the Lovin' Spoonful transformed his "Prison Wall Blues" into "Younger Girl," but the most famous of all was the Rooftop Singers' cover of "Walk Right In," which hit the pop charts in 1963. The renewed attention enabled Cannon to record an album for the fledgling Stax label in Memphis, but his advanced age prevented Cannon from enjoying many fruits of the blues revival. He died in Memphis on Oct. 15, 1979.
Amos Milburn was one of the most popular young blues artists of the late 1940s and early '50s, famed for his rollicking piano boogies, smooth blues and ballads, and a slew of drinking songs that unfortunately reflected far too personal a view of the alcoholic star. Milburn got his start playing in Houston, Texas, where he was born on April 1, 1927. He spent most of his recording career with the Los Angeles-based Aladdin label, from 1946 through 1957, scoring No. 1 R&B hits on the Billboard charts with "Chicken Shack Boogie," "Bewildered," "Roomin' House Boogie," and "Bad, Bad Whiskey." Milburn's popular follow-ups on the alcohol theme included "Let Me Go Home Whiskey," "Thinking and Drinking," and "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer." Milburn and his longtime friend Charles Brown later recorded together on the Ace and King labels. Although Milburn had a name on the R&B touring circuit and was filmed at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, he often traveled as a solo act playing lounges around the country and working mostly in the Cincinnati area in the late 1960s. After a stroke in 1970, he returned to Houston. His death came there on Jan. 3, 1980.
Peter Guralnick, one of the premier writers on American roots music, is the author of three books already inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame as Classics of Blues Literature: "Feel Like Going Home," "Searching for Robert Johnson," and "Sweet Soul Music." Guralnick's works also include acclaimed biographies of icons Sam Cooke and Elvis Presley, as well as "Lost Highway," "A Listener's Guide to the Blues,"and a novel, "Nighthawk Blues." He is currently at work on a book about Sun Records founder Sam Phillips. A longtime blues devotee and a meticulous researcher with a lucid and insightful writing style, Guralnick was born in Boston on Dec. 15, 1943. He has written portraits of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Johnny Shines, Otis Spann, and other blues legends, in addition to numerous liner notes and articles. He has worked on several documentaries, including Martin Scorsese's Year of the Blues series in 2003.
John William "Sonny" Payne has been the genial host of the legendary King Biscuit Time program on KFFA radio in Helena, Arkansas, for more decades than most of his listeners have even been alive. Payne, a Helena native born Nov. 29, 1925, joined the station as an errand boy when it went on the air in 1941, just as bluesmen Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Jr. Lockwood were about to make history with a blues program designed to advertise the local King Biscuit brand of flour. The show not only succeeded in its mission to promote flour sales, but proved to be a hugely influential medium for blues in the Delta at a time when little African American music was heard on the air. Aspiring young bluesmen such as B.B. King, Albert King, and Jimmy Reed recalled hovering around radios at lunchtime to catch the broadcasts. Sonny Payne's hosting duties were minimal at first, but increased after he served in World War II, stayed a few years in Chicago playing upright bass with various bands, and returned to Helena in 1951. He rejoined the station as an advertising salesman and on-air personality, and eventually became the regular announcer on King Biscuit Time, first when the musicians still played live in the studio and later when the program switched to records after Williamson, James "Peck" Curtis, and other key figures had passed away. The program's reputation grew to international proportions over the years, enhanced by "Sunshine Sonny" and his entertaining, off-the-cuff patter. Musicians and fans traveling through Helena know they can stop in at the Delta Cultural Center, where the show is now broadcast, and get a few minutes of their own on the air with Sonny Payne, one of the most beloved figures in the history of blues radio.
The Bluesmen by Samuel Charters
Sam Charters' groundbreaking research on the blues in the 1950s and '60s resulted in several books that helped fuel the blues revival, bringing to light a musical and cultural history that no previous books had documented in such detail. Charters compiled The Bluesmen, subtitled "The story and the music of the men who made the Blues," with the intention of revising and expanding his 1959 opus, The Country Blues. A wealth of new information had been gathered in the interim by a network of researchers who shared their discoveries with Charters. The Bluesmen, published in 1967 by Oak Publications in New York, offered chapters on "The African Background," Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas, with biographical sections devoted to Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Skip James, Son House, Blind Lemon Jefferson and other key figures; Charters decided to save Memphis, St. Louis, the Atlantic Coast, postwar blues, the women of the blues, and other topics for future volumes. Some of this eventually appeared in Sweet As the Showers of Rain (The Bluesmen, Volume II) in 1977 and some appeared in various collections and in album liner notes over the years. In 1991, Da Capo Press combined the two volumes of The Bluesmen into a handy treatise that still serves as an invaluable reference work even after the decades of scholarship and analysis that have followed in the wake of Charters' visionary studies.
"All Your Love (I Miss Loving)" -- Otis Rush (Cobra, 1958)
"All Your Love (I Miss Loving)" is the third of Otis Rush's classic Cobra singles to earn Hall of Fame status and the second from the same 1958 session that featured both Rush and Ike Turner on guitar, under the production of Willie Dixon. Rush, then an impassioned young Chicago blues wonder, switched between a rumba beat and a shuffle on the song (in the manner of B.B. King's 1953 hit "Woke Up This Morning") and its guitar riffs became a Rush signature. Listeners have noted the similarity of "All Your Love" to the Peter Green's "Black Magic Woman," a hit for Santana, and it was the obvious inspiration for Bob Dylan's recent track "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'."
"Fever" -- Little Willie John (King, 1956)
Eighteen-year-old Little Willie John (1937-1968) didn't want to record "Fever" when the song was presented to him in 1956, according to King Records producer Henry Glover, but Glover persisted and John's career got its biggest boost when "Fever" stayed on the R&B charts for 23 weeks that year. The sensual blues composition by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell (who used the pen name John Davenport because he was under songwriting contract to another company) later became the signature torch song of Peggy Lee, who added some lyrics to her 1958 hit recording. "Fever" has crossed many genres in its subsequent cover versions by Elvis Presley, Beyoncé, Madonna, The Doors, James Brown, Sarah Vaughan, Bette Midler, and Toots & the Maytals, and many others. Little Willie John's rendition was cut at the King studios in Cincinnati on April 1, 1956, in the company of such stellar sidemen as guitarist Bill Jennings and pianist Jon Thomas.
"Key to the Highway" -- Big Bill Broonzy (OKeh, 1941)
Dozens of artists have recorded the blues standard "Key to the Highway," and although Big Bill Broonzy was not the first, he was among the earliest to popularize the song, and has been credited as co-composer (along with Charles Segar, who first recorded it in 1940). Broonzy played guitar on a second 1940 version by harmonica player Jazz Gillum before recording it himself for OKeh Records in Chicago on May 2, 1941. A classic lament on leaving a lover to roam the highway, by some interpretations the song is an anthem of the homeless. It has been recorded by John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Freddie King, Eric Clapton, and many others, most frequently by Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. Despite its fame, the song registered only once as a single on the Billboard charts, in 1958 when recorded by Little Walter.
"Match Box Blues" -- Blind Lemon Jefferson (OKeh and Paramount, 1927)
Blind Lemon Jefferson, one of the most influential and prolific of the early blues giants, left a massive recorded legacy of lyrics that became permanent elements of the blues lexicon. One of the most enduring of his themes was "Match Box Blues," with its classic down-and-out line "wonderin' will a match box hold my clothes." The song was recorded by bluesmen such as Albert King decades later, and it also quickly passed into the white country tradition with 1930s versions by Larry Hensley and the western swing band Roy Newman and His Boys, culminating with Carl Perkins' hit rockabilly rendition of 1957; and Perkins' version, of course, was picked up by the Beatles.
"Spoonful" -- Howlin' Wolf (Chess, 1960)
Howlin' Wolf's 1960 single "Spoonful" for Chess Records has become one of the standards of Chicago blues but like many other such songs that are familiar to nearly every blues fan today, it never even appeared on the Billboard charts when it was first released. The masterful performance by Wolf came under the direction of Willie Dixon, who penned the song and played bass on the session. Discographies list the other all-star accompanists as pianist Otis Spann, guitarists Hubert Sumlin and Freddy Robinson (later known as Abu Talib), and drummer Fred Below. Freddie King also claimed to have played guitar on the session. Otis Rush has stated that Dixon presented "Spoonful" to him, but the song didn't suit Rush's tastes and so it ended up with Wolf, and soon thereafter with Etta James, who did for Chess what Wolf didn't at the time - put "Spoonful" on the charts (in a duet with Harvey Fuqua). Wolf's version, however, was the one that inspired so many blues and rock bands in the years to come, with one of the best-known recordings coming from the Eric Clapton supergroup, Cream.
Strong Persuader by Robert Cray (Mercury LP/CD, 1986)
Strong Persuader was a breakthrough album both for Robert Cray and the blues, and its success is often cited as one of the key forces in reviving interest in the blues in the 1980s. The album hit high on four different Billboard Charts - the Billboard Hot 200, R&B Albums, Top Jazz Albums, and Top Contemporary Jazz Albums - and helped Cray win a Grammy and six Blues Music Awards; the album's opening track, "Smoking Gun," was also Blues Single of the Year (and reached No. 2 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock singles chart) and "Right Next Door (Because of Me)" was Blues Song of the Year. Cray's talents had been well captured by the production team of Bruce Bromberg and Dennis Walker on two earlier albums on the independent HighTone label, showing enough promise for HighTone to secure a major label deal with PolyGram's Mercury imprint. Strong Persuader, their first Mercury effort, made pop stars of the Robert Cray Band (Cray, Richard Cousins, Peter Boe, and David Olson).
Hung Down Head by Lowell Fulson (Chess LP, 1970; CD, 1996)
A 1970 entry in the Chess Vintage Series, Hung Dead Head contains some of Blues Hall of Famer Lowell Fulson's finest work, most notably the standard "Reconsider Baby" from a 1954 Dallas session. The other tracks, dating from 1955 to 1961, come from various Los Angeles dates as well as some Willie Dixon-produced Chicago sessions. "It's All Your Fault" was a key influence on young Chicago bluesman Magic Sam's style, and the inclusion of the multiple false starts and studio patter on "Tollin' Bells" marked one of the first times Chess released such material to document historic sessions for collectors and completists. The Vintage Series was compiled by Tom Swan.
I Hear Some Blues Downstairs by Fenton Robinson (Alligator LP, 1977; CD, 1991)
Fenton Robinson (1935-1997) was heralded as one of the most progressive guitarists in Chicago as well as one of the true intellectuals on the scene -- a Tolstoy and Kafka reader also known as "The Mellow Blues Genius." He was one of the first acts to be signed to Alligator Records, and his considerable talents as a singer, instrumentalist, and songwriter were well showcased on his second album for the label, I Hear Some Blues Downstairs, which in addition to the catchy title track also includes a remake of the classic "As the Years Go Passing By," which Robinson recorded in its original version for Duke Records in 1959. Sidemen on the album included Bill Heid, Steve Ditzell, Larry Exum, and Ashward Gates, with a horns arranged by one of Chicago's other most advanced guitarists, Reggie Boyd.