Saturday, July 29, 2006

THE VOICE OF THE BLUES, Muddy Waters & Howlin' Wolf

BluEsoterica provides updates and corrections to the book "The Voice of the Blues: Classic Interviews from Living Blues Magazine" (Routledge, 2002, edited by Jim O'Neal and Amy van Singel).

"The Voice of the Blues" is a collection of interviews conducted from 1967/68 to 1981, originally published in Living Blues, America's first blues magazine, with chapters expanded for this book to include introductions, postscripts, editors' notes, and previously unpublished questions and answers from several interviews.

Includes interviews with Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter & Louis Myers, T-Bone Walker, Freddie King, Little Milton, Georgia Tom Dorsey, Houston Stackhouse, Eddie Boyd, Little Esther Phillips, and Sleepy John Estes & Hammie Nixon. 427 pages, paperback, with Foreword by Peter Guralnick, 43 photos and detailed index.

Signed Copies are available for only $29.95 plus $4.50 shipping & handling (USA). Air mail shipping & handling: $7.95 Canada, $18.00 all other countries.


First, apologies to Ward Gaines, co-author with Scott Dirks and Tony Glover of the new Little Walter biography "Blues With a Feeling -- The Little Walter Story": an unnamed gremlin somehow got Ward's name wrong on page 282 of TVOTB.

Next, in the Muddy Waters interview, p. 180, Muddy recalled his first Chicago recording session (released on the 20th Century label under the name James "Sweet Lucy" Carter) and said that Memphis Slim, Jimmy Rogers and Lee Brown also recorded at the same session. Details from Scott Dirks on this rare Memphis Slim/Jimmy Rogers/Lee Brown 78 on the Harlem label have since been published on Big Joe Louis' website: "Jimmy Rogers' First Recording," at

We also have some comments on this session from the producer, J. Mayo Williams, who told us in an unpublished 1972 Living Blues interview that he had recorded Muddy. At the time, not knowing about the 20th Century 78, we mistakenly assumed Mayo had recorded Muddy's Columbia sides.
Here is the transcription of the relevant portion of the interview:

LB: Did you have anything to do with Chess, like when they were Aristocrat and then Chess later on?
JMW: No. Here: Chess used to be my distributor. Yeah, when they was right over here on 43rd Street . . . I mean 51st Street. And I'm the first one to record Muddy Waters.
LB: Really?
JMW: Yeah.
LB: Did you record him for Aristocrat?
JMW: I recorded him for myself.
LB: When was that?
JMW: Now that was in the Civic Opera Building, and the engineer didn't know how to put that eccentric [concentric] groove in the records, and they were never released. They didn't know how to . . . you know where that eccentric groove is, you know, where it rejects and so forth and so on? The engineers didn't know how to put in a lead-in line, from the beginning. And I just, I had them around here someplace. I don't know where in the hell they are.
LB: You still have them?
JMW: (Laughs). I don't know where they are, I haven't been able to--
LB: Do you remember the titles of the songs he sang?
JMW: I don't even remember the titles.
LB: Did he play by himself or with a band?
JMW: No, he had a little group.
LB: Do you remember how many people were in the group? And what they played?
JMW: No. I got his picture stickin' up there. [The walls of Williams' office were filled with photo collages of blues and jazz artists.] Yeah. I only keep it because these others, I recorded everybody you see in here, all these others, at some time or other. And now, you asked me if I had done anything for Chess. When Chess was just starting in the big time, you see, I got in touch with him. He had been my distributor over here at 51st Street. I got in touch with him. Then he began to make money and got too big for me. Yeah. And I got in touch with him. Now he's gonna send me, he tells me that he will send a couple of his lieutenants out to see me and I told him about having these records, you see. He's gonna send a couple of lieutenants out to see me, and I just wouldn't see 'em, you see. I wanted to talk to Chess, but he was too big for me then, see. And consequently I never paid any more attention to those records. Would be worth money today, if I had 'em I could get 'em re-recorded or retaped and processed, and make some money. But that was the story of Muddy Waters. And I never will forget it. They had a studio up in the Civic Opera Building on about the 13th or 14th floor. And Muddy Waters was glad to record.
LB: He had never made any records [in Chicago] before that, had he?
JMW: No.
LB: Was that about 1950 or earlier?
JMW: Now, let me see. No, that was . . . all of this was after '46, so it could have been around between '50 and '55, some time about then, you see. But, well, I made a whole lot of mistakes at this game, too, you see. But money was coming, so . . .
[The date of this session is listed in "Blues Records 1943-1970" as 1946. Producer Lester Melrose also recorded Muddy for Columbia in September of that year.]

The NORTH LITTLE ROCK blues sessions
In the Houston Stackhouse interview (p. 130-131), Stackhouse recalled a recording session he did in North Little Rock with Ernest Lane on piano. I speculated that this must have been done at Charles Scroggins' [sic] Music Center for the Bihari brothers' Modern/RPM labels. (Joe Bihari recorded Driftin' Slim, Baby Face Turner, Junior Brooks, and Sunny Blair at the Music Center in 1951-52.) More recent research at the library in Little Rock revealed that the store was owned by Martin Scroggin, and through an internet search I managed to contact his son, during the course of writing liner notes for Ace Records' reissue CD series The Modern Downhome Blues Sessions. The Music Center had a set-up to record anyone who came in off the street wanting to make a demo for a fee of three dollars, and that's how Driftin' Slim and his crew first came to record there. Scroggin pitched the demos to Joe Bihari and Bihari returned to do the official Modern/RPM sessions. It appears that the Stackhouse/Lane sides were done as three-dollar demos, paid for by local club owner Jim Lindsay, and were not acquired by Modern. At least one of the Stackhouse demos survived and we hope to have some news soon about releasing it on CD.

The JIMMY REED Family Blues Tradition
I wrote that one of Jimmy Reed's daughters had told me that the Reed family had all gone into gospel music in the introduction to the Reed interview (p. 307). In 2004 I got to spend some time with some of the Reed family again at the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame induction ceremony and dinner in Memphis. Jimmy Reed Jr. is active in the church and no longer sings blues or soul (his 1967 Mercury 45, it turns out, is a prized item among "Northern Soul" collectors, valued at $200 or more!). But his younger sister Rose is indeed singing the blues, and did some of her father's songs during the Chicago Blues Festival in June 2004 at Gregg Parker's Chicago Blues Museum tent. If anyone would like to contact the Reed family, please call or e-mail me for contact info.

The HOWLIN' WOLF Interview
And, to readers who bought "The Voice of the Blues" expecting to read an interview with Howlin' Wolf as advertised on the back cover, we ended up eliminating the Wolf interview (from the first issue of Living Blues in 1970) from the first draft of the book, although the publisher's copywriters didn't know that. The Wolf interview, we felt, was not as informative as others done later in Living Blues (no fault of Wolf's, just of the uninformed interviewers!) -- but, as a service to our readers and to all Howlin' Wolf fans, we're reprinting it here (with revisions from the original LB feature, with thanks to Allmusic Zine).

Other "missing" interviews, chopped from the manuscript when the publisher told us we had to cut back on the page length: Champion Jack Dupree (by Staffan Solding), Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry (by Barry Elmes), Big Joe Turner (by Paul Clinco), Lowell Fulson (by Bruce Iglauer, Jim O'Neal & Bea Van Geffen), Percy Mayfield (by Dick Shurman), and Z.Z. Hill (by Jim O'Neal). We hope to publish these and several others in a second volume of blues interviews.

And now:

An Interview with HOWLIN' WOLF

On Oct. 10, 1969, Howlin' Wolf was (believe it or not) the opening act for a Paul Butterfield concert at Cahn Auditorium on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Three naive young enthusiasts managed to get an interview with the Wolf backstage for WNUR, the college radio station. Wolf was quite gracious, good-humored, and patient with these novices; the part I remember best about the interview was Wolf reassuring us as we fumbled for questions: "Take your time, you know, I ain't in no hurry. . ."
Over the years I've often wished I had known enough at the time to have done an in-depth interview with Wolf; by the time I knew what questions I should have asked, Wolf had become virtually unapproachable -- or so it seemed to me and many others. During Wolf's final years stories constantly circulated about how embittered he had become about the music business, or at least about how other people were getting rich off his music. I always regretted that I didn't try to get to know him better, but he cut such an imposing, intimidating figure that I could barely manage to say hello, even though I went to see him many times when he was playing the West Side blues bars. In retrospect I think Wolf might have actually enjoyed telling his stories to someone; I can remember times I saw him sitting alone at the bar, neither approaching anyone nor being approached. Maybe he didn't want to be bothered, but maybe he was lonely. Another regret is that we only used 22 minutes of tape for the interview, because Wolf continued to talk long after the tape ran out. [See notes at the end of the interview that I wrote at the time.]
When Living Blues Magazine published its first issue in early 1970, we chose the Howlin' Wolf interview as our premier cover story. I remember two responses to that feature in particular. One was a letter from a blues authority from overseas who was dumbfounded that we had asked Wolf about Jeff Beck instead of about his recollections of historical figures such as Ishmon Bracey. (I was the culprit who asked if he knew Jeff Beck; the reason was that Beck had recently recorded Wolf's "I Ain't Superstititious" on his "Truth" album with the following note on the back cover: "I Ain't Superstitious: Stolen riff from old 'Howlin' Wolf' tune, but he doesn't mind because I asked him.".) The other response was Wolf's. Sometimes when we went to Big Duke's Blue Flame Lounge, where Wolf was performing regularly, we'd take copies of Living Blues #1 and usually we'd just give them away to the musicians, barmaids and customers instead of trying to collect 50 cents for them. When Wolf saw this, he chastised me for giving away something I should be selling. A couple of years later, of course, I heard that Wolf was complaining because Living Blues had never paid him any money . . . At any rate, here is the complete, re-transcribed, unedited version of the Howlin' Wolf interview which appeared in Living Blues #1 (certain words and phrases sound different now, relistening to Wolf's speech after 30 years of transcribing blues interviews.) The interviewers (not credited in that issue, I guess because we didn't want our ignorance exposed) were: Amy van Singel (the host of WNUR's blues show), Jim O'Neal, and Dave Loebel.

Portions of this interview tape can be heard in the 2003 BMG/Bluebird DVD documentary The Howlin' Wolf Story.

-- Jim O'Neal
Founding Co-Editor, Living Blues

AVS: We're talking with Howling Wolf here. I'd like to know where you were born, because I heard it's been in Arkansas and Mississippi both.
HW: Well, I was born in Aberdeen, Mississippi. That's about 160 miles beyond Memphis, kinda 'tween Memphis and Jackson on Highway 45 goin' south. [*Wolf's birthplace has since been pinpointed as White Station, Mississippi, close to the towns of Aberdeen and West Point. A statue of Wolf was erected in West Point in 1997.]
AVS: Did you grow up in Mississippi?
HW: No. I growed up in Arkansas. Around Forrest City, West Memphis, and like that.
AVS: When did you come to Chicago?
HW: I come to Chicago in '52, somewhere about '52.
AVS: Uh, when did you make your first recordings? Were these before you came to Chicago?
HW: Yes. I made -- [coughs] excuse, excuse me -- I made my recordin' with, uh, uh, Chess. Leonard Chess. Chess and Checker.
AVS: Right.
HW: Um-hum. And that was in '48 when I first started out really to makin' records. But I been playing for 35 years. I was playing long, way before I cut, started to cuttin' records, through-and-out the South. [*Discographies cite the date of Wolf's first recording as 1951.]
AVS: Who taught you how to play harp?
HW: Rice Miller.
AVS: Second Sonny Boy!
HW: Yeah.
AVS: I thought it was the first one.
HW: No. The first Sonny Boy, they say he got killed here in Chicago. But Rice Miller was my man that I learned under. He married my sister -- half-sister. And I got a chance to learn how to blow a harp.
AVS: Right. You were at Ann Arbor Blues Festival. Did you like it?
HW: It was wonderful. Really wonderful. I didn't know how the peoples like it. See, I always like to go around and play for 'em any time they ask, or call on me, you know.
AVS: Where are you playing on the West Side now? We went down, I guess it was Roosevelt Road, and we saw about four different signs where you're playing.
HW: Well, you see, I just moved from there, first sign. I'm gone to the next sign, that's close to California. See, that lady there at Damen & Roosevelt, she got to the place she mistreat my friends, you know. One night she'll charge 'em a dollar and the next night a dollar and a half, and the peoples got to grumblin' about it, you know. So they come to tellin' me their trouble. I told her about it. She thought I shouldn'ta, so I just left, went down right through, 'cross Western, at, on the corner of California.
JO: Is that Walton's Corner?
HW: No. Yeah, right there at Walton's Corner. They call it Duke's Place. It's on the left hand side.
AVS: That's about the fourth name we've heard for it.
HW: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Yeah.
[*Note: The clubs Wolf referred to were the Key Largo (at "the first sign"), at the corner of Damen Ave. & W. Roosevelt Rd., and Big Duke's Flamingo Lounge, 2657 W. Roosevelt Rd.]
JO: Are you gonna play guitar tonight too?
HW: Yes, I play some guitar, you know, uh, sometime. I always let Hubert play because he's a young man and I want him to be seen. I partly raised him, you know. I always keep him out there in the front and I do the singin', but if he get kinda sluggish with it, then I'll play.
[*Note: I can recall a night at Pepper's Blues in the Loop, a couple of years later, when Wolf decided that not only Hubert, but the rest of the band as well, were too "sluggish" to be onstage, so he commanded them to leave, told the audience why, and proceeded to sit down with his guitar to do the set himself. It took him a while to try to tune the guitar and nothing much happened, unfortunately.]
AVS: Who's in your band?
HW: I have Hubert, the lead guitar player, Hubert Sumlin. Then I have my bass player, his name Calvin Jones, but we all call him Fuzzy. And my drummer is named Willie Williams, and my piano player is named Detroit Junior.
AVS: Is this the Detroit Junior -- where's he from?
HW: Yes, the same.
AVS: Is he from -- he's made records on his own . . .
HW: Yeah, but he, he fell on the wayside. I'm carryin' him along, you know, until he get another break. And my horn blower, tenor sax, is named Willie Young. And me: I am the Wolf! [Laughs.]
AVS: Yeah! You wanta say that again--I gotta get that!
HW: And me, I am the Wolf.
AVS: Thank you. Wow, that's great. Um, can you tell us about the psychedelic blues album that you made for Chess [Cadet Concept LP 319, Wolf's latest LP release at the time of the interview]?
HW: Ooh, well, oh, that was Marshall Chess's ideas, you know. I never did go for it, I never did like it, because that queer sound in there, "bow-wow-wow-wow." [Room erupts in laughter.] I just don't like it. I still don't like it. But the teenagers go for it, you know. So he's runnin', he's out there, a young man out there with the young crowd. So I just made it for him, you know. Course, I been with 'em ever since he was a baby, you know. I been with that company ever since that boy was a baby, you know. So.
JO: Have you recorded anything since then?
HW: Yes, I got out a new one out now. If they goin' on and turn it loose, "I'm into hard luck and I ain't doin' no good." ["Hard Luck," a 45 rpm single on Chess 2081, recorded July 14, 1969.]
JO: Are you still writing your own songs?
HW: Some of 'em. And some of 'em I get from different fans, you know, and give 'em their portion, you know, write -- the writers' portion. When the royalties come out. I get some from the white groups, from the colored groups, from the -- from the Puerto Rican. Different fans, you know.
AVS: I'd like to hear one of those!
HW: They always keep me in song, you know, because I make 'em, why, they know they gonna get their, their writers' share, you know.
AVS: What songs are you gonna do tonight?
HW: Oh, I do what the peoples ask me to do. I don't know what I'm gonna do! You know. (Laughs). You see you gotta . . .
AVS. Yeah. Can you do "300 Pounds of Joy"? That's my favorite song.
HW: Yes, OK.
JO: Do "I Ain't Superstitious"?
HW: Well . . . maybe I will. OK. I ain't sung that "Superstitious" in so long I might not know how to now. Several people ask me, you know.
JO: Do you know Jeff Beck?
HW: Jeff Beck?
JO: Yeah.
HW: I don't reckon I do.
JO: He recorded "I Ain't Superstitious." He's an English blues group.
HW: Yeah. Well, I'm glad somebody thought enough of it to take it and do somethin' with it. Maybe the next fella can do more with it than I. But I don't feel bad about it because there's -- when somebody take your number and use it, why, that's lettin' 'em know that you -- that they really appreciate your sound, you know. I wished a lot of 'em 'd take 'em and doin' it. I ain't givin' 'em no trouble copyin'.
JO: Quite a few people have.
HW: Um-hum. Yeah.
AVS: Questions, anybody? I'm trying to think of what else I have to ask you.
HW: [Coughs.] You have to excuse me.Well, take your time, you know. I ain't in no hurry, you know. Think of what you want to think of. I know -
JO: Do you -- do you prefer playing the blues clubs or concerts like this?
HW: Well, I -- I just like to play anywhere, you know. I play in the blues clubs, concerts . . . It doesn't matter.
JO: I notice, like, Muddy Waters doesn't play the clubs much anymore, does he?
HW: [Coughs.] Well, I can't speak for Muddy Waters. They play different places and I hope 'em good luck at it. I don't have anything to say about the guy, you know. Treat me all right. But I can this: they are jealous hearted, you know. Are jealous hearted musicians, you know. See, if you can't do like your songs, get kinda jealous of you. Like you, like they think you better than them and all that, but I don't fool with those kind of peoples, you know. I ain't got the time.
AVS: You played up in Madison, Wisconsin, recently, didn't you?
HW: Yes, I did. I was up there a few weeks ago. Last night I was in Appleton, Wisconsin.
AVS: Yeah, yeah. Is that -- is that Lawrence University?
JO: Lawrence? Yeah.
AVS: Yeah, we talked to some people.
HW: Oh, they had a wonderful time there last night. They didn't want me to leave, but I told 'em "I gotta make it." They wanted me to stay all night, I said, "No, no." [Laughter in room.] "You gon' mess me up on this other job. I gotta go now." They taken me to their little studio, you know, down right 'cross the streets there, little studio in the basement. And we drinkin' some wine and talk some trash -- don't have that on there [on tape]! [Laughter.]
[Two musicians come in, get five dollars from the Wolf to buy some wine, talk a few minutes with him, and leave. "Don't tell nobody where I'm at, hear?" Wolf tells them as they go.]
JO: Who were they [the musicians]?
HW: That -- that was Fuzz with that, the one I paid. They call him Calvin but everybody calls him Fuzz. And that guy there was Detroit Junior, that little low fella.
JO: He's the guy I saw at Pepper's, you remember, that night?
AVS: Huh.
HW: Yeah, that's Detroit.
JO: Yeah. Doesn't he play at Pepper's?
HW: Yes, he fool around and fell on the way. He's a good musician all right, but he gets, get drunk and be late on the job and can't keep his musicians straight, and he just, just give it up for awhile, he said the guys wouldn't do right for him. Say he was tired of all them headaches. I don't blame him 'bout that. You know, when you playing and got a contract signed with people, you got to be there. And they lookin' for your band to be there, but some people, they'll get carried away over somethin' else and be late gettin' to the job, you know. Nothin' you can do about it, you know. Or either keep 'em or let him go.
JO: So do the members in your band change a lot?
HW: Hm?
JO: Do you change your band around a lot, with different people?
HW: With different musicians?
JO: Yeah.
HW: Oh, yeah, in a, in a club, you know, but not in a place like this [a concert hall], you know, because peoples payin' to come in and you don't want the -- I don't know how they'd like it, you know, unless we kinda do it. I might put 'em up there and then they'll get insulted. I don't want to do that. Now when I'm playin'down there at the club, you know, I'll let anybody play. Anybody that think they want to play, they welcome. But I can't do it out here. I don't think. I ain't gon' try. [Laughter.]
DL: Have you ever played with Paul Butterfield?
HW: Huh?
DL: Have you ever played with Paul Butterfield? 'Cause Muddy has.
HW: No. No, I never played with Paul. Paul's a nice boy. And one thing about Paul: he kept the colored boys until he got straightened out like he wanted. And, from me -- he took 'em away from me, you know, and -- and now he done put 'em down and got somebody else. That's the only thing I felt band about him when he was startin'. He got my, a couple of my good musicians. And kept 'em awhile. I don't know what the break-up was, but I asked the musicians what was the break-up but they never did tell me. I never knew, I ain't never got to see Paul to ask him why did he, he didn't keep 'em, you know. Course sometimes musicians get unruly and you have to put him down. But I still would want to know what happened, you know.
JO: Who were those musicians?
HW: Oh, my drummer, er, a one, uh, my bass player. Sammy Lay for one and, and Jerome Arnold was the other'n -- mixed-breed Negro, look like a Mexican, Puerto Rican or somethin'. But his name was Jerome Arnold.
JO: Can I ask you, who you think is the best harp player?
HW: Well, I don't go --
JO: Besides yourself.
HW: I don't go into these things. I don't know.
JO: Is there someone you --
HW: I don't make no comments on musicians.
HW: I'm not tryin' to turn you all smart because I don't, because I might be talkin' somethin' I don't know, and fact of the business, just don't make it to talkin' about musicians. Let the peoples, let them decide. Just like some of 'em say right now, they call my kind of music folk songs. But them no folk songs, them old blues. See? And if ain't that it's rock 'n' roll. It's still old blues. Old gutbucket stuff.
AVS: What was your first record?
HW: Oh, "Smoke Stack Lightnin'," I think. ["Moanin' at Midnight" b/w "How Many More Years" was actually Wolf's first release -- Chess 1479.] No, I don't care what you're doing, if you go down in a four-bar intro, I mean 12-bar with four-bar intro, you're playing the blues, you know. When you step the stuff up you're playin' rock 'n' roll, then you can turn around and play jazz, you know.
JO: Have you ever played anything but the blues?
HW: No. No, I don't play anything but the blues, but now I never could make no money on nothin' but the blues. That's -- that's why I wasn't interested in nothin' else but the blues, you know. Course now I ain't gon' pour no water on somebody else 'cause he like jazz, how-high-is-the-moon and who-bop-a-dop, that's his business. [Laughter.] But me, I just like them old blues. 'Cause I don't know nothin' but the blues. Now the reason I play 'em, I come up hard. I suffered 'em, a lot of places. Person ain't never had no in hard times, why they don't know the blues mean anyway. Take the young generation: they don't understand but they tryin' to learn it. But see, men from me on back up, they know what it mean. Take these kids -- take these peoples over here. They wouldn't had even knowed, they wouldn't even thought about the Negroes now as well as they do until the English boys come here and and made a fortune and went back home. Then everybody went to runnin' with the Negro sounds, you know. That was a good sound, you know. Just as well's to face it. They was out there playin' that longhaired music and stuff -- hillbilly music. [Laughs.] Now today, just about every young cat you see now playin' anything, he gon' play him some blues before he's done, you know. All right. 'Cause conditions make you have the blues, make you be content, you know. If you ain't got it, you got to be content. Um-hum.
JO: Why do you think young black people today don't like the blues as much?
HW: Well, he don't understand it. He doesn't understand it. They would -- 40 percent [of] dudes, you know, they say they don't like the blues, but whenever they get to a place and get to drinkin' a few drams, then they fall right back to his old inherit, you know what I mean. Blues. Well, let him tell it out there while he's got his hair slicked up, startin' out he says, "No, I don't like the blues." But just as soon as he get out there and get to drinkin', and you watch his attitude. Every time he run to the piccolo [jukebox] he want to put some B.B. King or Muddy Waters on there, you now. And beat everybody in the house stompin' it. [Laughter.] Oh, you can't leave your inherit, I don't care where you go. Um-um. You take it's just like your inherit: you can't leave it. You might go off a while of it, but you got to go back to it, you know. So I have to be with these here Negroes, you know. My people. You can't leave your inherit, I don't care how far you go, you got to look back at it, you know, or come back to it, to a certain extent. I might be wrong, but that's the way I see it.

[Tape ran out at this point. Wolf continued talking for another hour. Some of his comments:
"My daddy was a black Negro, my mother was a half Indian."
Wolf worked as a plumber, and still works on pipes for friends. He doesn't like electrical work -- "I know too many people that got burnt out like that."
He said he has been to Europe three times -- first during World War II, and then two blues tours in the '60s. He found audiences there enthusiastic, but couldn't understand their "gobble-gobble-gobble."]
[A group of musicians finally returned with a pint of Canadian Club, a can of 7 Up and five cups. After the liquor was gone, Wolf said, "Don't let nobody know we was here," leaving the bottle and cups in the room as everyone left.]

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