Lost At “C”
Each week Rev. Billy C. Wirtz tells us about artists, albums, and music that we need to know about.
Here are ten great (mainly blues) piano albums that would keep me from talking to the coconuts on a desert island.
1) Chicago Breakdown – Big Maceo Merriweather
The first time I heard “Chicago Breakdown” I was siting on the couch with Sunnyland Slim in his living room in Chicago. There’s one section in the signature song where Maceo, a 6’ 5” left-hander from Detroit, unloads a stunning barrage of bass notes that piano players simply refer to as “The Maceo lick.”
I sat there and shook my head.
Sunnyland pulled the needle off the record and played it again.
…and then a third time.
2) Best Of Leroy Carr
Find any one of several “Best Of “ collections. Even the most casual search will indicate that great musicians rarely worry about abitrary genres. Leroy Carr’s piano mixed elements of stride, barrelhouse, and even gospel.
He is the George Gershwin of the blues.
From “How Long, How Long,” to “Had To Carry Water For The Elephant,” I’ve played Leroy Carr tunes for everyone from bikers in Virginia to middle school students in Canada. Don’t take my word for it, find some old interviews with Muddy Waters. Leroy Carr was always among his top three faves.
3) The Solo Masterpieces – Art Tatum
These were recorded shortly before he passed. If you’ve never heard “Tatum Pole Boogie,” you’re in for a shock. I swear to you, there’s only one player at the piano. Although he is technically a “jazz” musician, it would be downright criminal not to mention him. Accolades aside, he plays with a beauty and richness rivaling anyone, anywhere, and any time…If anything, I am understating his greatness.
4) Blues For Everybody – Champion Jack Dupree
A former boxer from New Orleans. The Ying To Tatum’s Yang (hmm…). Anyway, a total cut-up, a really funny guy, and a master of the barroom boogie. There’s a really rare live album done in London that’s about fifty/fifty music and “shtick.” This album features some of his most classic tunes, accompanied by all-star sidemen. Check out how he sings/narrates songs and stories using the piano as his partner. Amazing and never dull.
5) I’ll Sail My Ship Alone – Moon Mullican
Aubrey “Moon” Mullican blazed the path down which Jerry Lee Lewis, Merrill Moore and Jimmy Swaggert would later travel.
Probably the most obvious and brilliant fusion of Western Swing and Lumber Camp boogie -woogie on record.
King Records president Syd Nathan loved to record the same song by black and white artists. There were numerous “Hillbilly” and ‘R&B” versions of the same song. Moon Mullican actually recorded a song (“I’m Mad With You”) that was covered by Rudy Ray Moore aka Dolemite!!
Gospel, blues, swing, boogie, Cajun, and rock ’n’ roll, all courtesy of the man from Wink, Texas.
6) Chicken Shack Boogie – Amos Milburn
The king of hell raisin’, whiskey drinkin’, rhythm and blues piano. Important to note the r&b monicker as it identifies a post-war style that split off from jazz, and not without a few sour notes from the critics.
Milburn and Mullican ran parrellel roads around the same time. Play one and then the other and you begin to see the absurdity of dividing music with aribitrary labels.
7) Conversations In Blue – Otis Spann and David Maxwell
Richard Conelly (execitive producer) sent me a copy of this. Hard to believe that anyone could improve upon or enhance the original Spann recordings. Mr. Maxwell succeeds on so many levels. There is a really obscure Memphis Slim/Roosevelt Sykes project featuring the two of them weaving in and out of each other; in some ways the Maxwell/Spann project passes that one in the home stretch.
8) Who Put The Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine
Harry “The Hipster” Gibson
Albert Ammons meets Lord Buckley and swipes Jerry Lee’s Adderall. This guy is one seriously loose cannon. He can also play some ferocious piano.
9) What That Is! – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
There is a very immature side of me that still takes a sadistic delight in playing “Constipation Blues” on my radio show. Even worse, that’s not the weirdest song on this album. “Feast of The Mau Maus” uses a twelve-bar blues progression to celebrate cannibal rituals. “Pass the fried ear please, give me some more of that inside soul…”
10) “Slim’s Shout” – Sunnyland Slim
I found this record of an old blues piano player while still in high school. A few years later, he came to my hometown in Virginia. A year after that, I stayed with him for a couple of months in Chicago. Sunnyland Slim got Muddy Waters an audition with the Chess Brothers. His career began with Ma Rainey and ended in the digital age.
Personal imvolvements aside, his playing combined Teddy Wilson and Little Brother Montgomery with the originators of a multitude of styles. His singing is every bit as down home and rough as his playing. Never one to worry too much smoothness or finesse, he kept it simple. “I can holler loud and draw a crowd.” Damn straight.
So if the Blues Cruise ever sinks and I am left alone stranded on a desert island, as long as I have these recordings I know I will get by. It’s just finding a place to plug in the charger!
Rev. Billy C. Wirtz is a weekly columnist at BluesWax. Each week he finds artists, albums, and music that you should know about. He also plays piano. His radio show, Rev. Billy’s Rhythm Revival, is available in podcast. To hear the latest, go to Rev. Billy C. Wirtz’ page on Facebook and look for the link.
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