I bought these albums when they were first released in the late sixties. They were almost worn away with constant playing, especially volume one. The stand-out track is Vietcong Blues. As for Otis Spann, what a tragedy he died so young - genius! I'm so glad that this is now available on cd. The sound quality is excellent and the sleeve notes informative. At last, a reissue that is a labour of love rather than a rip-off.
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Sam Charters went to Chicago in 1965 to record a mixture of the younger bluesmen playing what became known as South Side blues and some of the lesser known veterans from the earlier scene. He succeeded beyond anybody's wildest dreams and produced over two hours of breathtaking music. These discs caused a great stir when first issued and now appear as a box set of three discs. They contain fascinating music. The first disc has Junior Wells' Chicago Blues Band, J. B. Hutto and His Hawks and Otis Spann. Wells leads a tough little band, plays fine harmonica much influenced by Sonny Boy Williamson II and has Buddy Guy in support, playing some fast but not showy guitar. The great Fred Below is on drums, so the band fires on all cylinders. Hutto, on his tracks, plays driving explosive guitar in the Elmore James style, but bass and drums are a little perfunctory. Spann has only S. P. Leary on drums and shows himself as possibly the greatest blues pianist ever with some exciting instrumental blues and some shattering slow stuff. The second disc has the Jimmy Cotton Blues Quartet, with fine harmonica and vocals and that man Spann holding the whole thing together and showing just how it should be done. Otis Rush, whose band follows, is slightly different. His band features Robert Crowder on tenor sax and this gives a slightly more old fashioned sound, almost like one of the jump blues bands of the forties. Homesick James and His Dusters conclude the disc with four tracks again much influenced by his cousin Elmore James. Homesick was never quite the guitarist or singer of Elmore but he came pretty near. The last disc features two older bands, Johnny Young and Johnny Shines, both with Shakey Horton on harmonica. Both are fine tough little bands, deserving of greater reputation. A particular pleasure is Johnny Young's mandolin on three tracks, giving the band a totally different and very attractive sound. The only letdown in the whole set is the harmonica duet on 'Rockin' My Boogie' with Horton and Charlie Musselwhite, a routine instrumental on which both men seem to be coasting. Marvellous stuff, both in its own right and as an introduction to the Chicago blues in its last great flowering.
It's great to have these classic mid-60s LPs reissued in one CD set - although I just wish they could have kept the iconic original album art work with gritty photographs of the city that for me at the time perfectly summed up contemporary Chicago blues - I used to travel 15 miles to Liverpool just to look at the covers in a record shop! At the time although we were aware of Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Jimmy Reed etc these performers were all very much new names to us and I still love the raw feel to the recordings of these acts who had honed their performances in the clubs of Chicago. My favourite at the time was Volume two - Jimmy Cotton, Otis Rush and Homesick James - but I still like the variety here from the soul-tinged performances of Otis Rush and Junior Wells to the very raw almost country sounds of Johnny Young and Johnny Shines - with the added bonus of Walter Horton's harp. Truly classic recordings.
Sam Charters went to Chicago in December 1965 armed with a few thousand dollars from Maynard Solomon, boss of Vanguard Records. His ambition was to record the musicians working in the blues clubs of South Side Chicago. Rather than record a whole LP with each band, Charters decided to record four or five songs per band in a standard union three hour session. The result created a huge impact when released as three LPs in 1966, and still retains its magic forty years later. In the studio, Charters captured the earthy, driving sounds of the blues bands of the Chicago scene. Men like Walter Horton and Johnny Shines could remember running with Robert Johnson back in the 1930s. Younger artists like Junior Wells and Buddy Guy were forging their own urban sound. The results, lovingly re-released as a three CD package, is a wonderful record of Chicago blues in the 1960s. In his fascinating accompanying essay, Charters writes that, at the time, he was frustrated not to be able to lure any of the giants of the Chicago blues scene, such as Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and Howling Wolf, into the studio; they were wary of breaking their recording contracts to Chess Records in their home town. But Charters shouldn't have worried. As he now recognises, he captured a wonderful spectrum of blues musicians. Some sounds as down home as Mississippi in the 1930s, enlivened by mandolin and slide guitar. Some of it sounds as up to the minute as recordings by The Rolling Stones and the Paul, Butterfield Blues Band released in that same year. It's great music, beautifully presented as a package.
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If there ever was a blues album that could be called a classic, this is it. These performances are the roots of urban blues, and are the music that people like Eric Clapton and Keith Richards were listening to when they developed their styles. Don't look for fancy production values: what you have here are basically human beings and a microphone, just like you would in a Chicago blues club. If you are a fan of urban blues, you probably already have this set, but you should get it if you don't. If you want to investigate this type of music, or if you're a fan of the many later rock covers and imitations of it, then this set will prove both a revelation and a delight and is the place to start.
I fully agree with the previous reviewers. This is a fine snapshot of the Chicago blues scene of 1965. I'm not over the moon about the eerie photo'art' on the cover. The original coverart is far superior. However - the enclosed booklet is very good. My favourites on the collection are the Otis Rush Band cuts. These 5 tracks has to be some of the best OR ever comitted to vinyl. Furthermore, these gems have been aurally repaired. The original LP cuts were marred by some compression fault wich caused a strange intermittant high-pitch boost and some odd clicking noises. The clicking can still be heard, but the overall sound is very much improved and quite OK.