'Catchin' Catfish' 4 Releases
by Craig Ruskey
Review date: April 2001
1999 KBA Award Winner|
Achievement for Blues on the Internet
Presented by the Blues Foundation
The UK based Catfish label adds yet another volume in their ongoing project of stunning discs, this time it's the 2-disc "East Coast Blues" (KATCD 178) set, which brings together more familiar names along with others who have perhaps less than a paragraph devoted to them in the many annals of blues history. The names of Blind Boy Fuller and McTell, Kokomo Arnold, Barbecue Bob, Curley Weaver, Buddy Moss and a few others will be recognized, but again, as with previous issues from Catfish, they manage to dig up some stellar examples of blues by artists who spent less time in recording studios than they did traveling to them. Julius Daniels, who opens disc one, is trite with "My Mamma Was A Sailor" while Floyd Council's "Poor And Ain't Got A Dime," from 1937, is tough and Pink Anderson's 1928 "Gonna Tip Out Tonight" is a humorous piece that more hints at minstrel styles. Ever wonder where Pink Floyd came up with the name for their band? Look no further, it was indeed from Pink Anderson and Floyd "Dipper Boy" Council. Peg Leg Howell has a pair from 1928 and his "Ball And Chain Blues" finds him pleading before the judge for a light sentence. William Moore gets two titles and both "Ragtime Millionaire" and "Barbershop Rag" show him playing some fine guitar. Disc two kicks off with Willie Walker, a deft picker on both "South Carolina Rag" and "Dupree Blues," from a 1928 Chicago session. Jack Gowdlock has a tandem and shines on "Rollin' Dough Blues" from 1931. Sloppy Henry is lowdown with "Royal Palm Special Blues," featuring some sawing fiddle from Eddie Anthony, and he's due an award for one of the best titles ever in blues with his "Long Tall, Disconnected Mama" from 1928. Fred McMullen, a brilliant artist, smolders through "Rolling Mama" playing some tough guitar from 1933. Also making appearances are Charlie Lincoln, Sonny Terry, and the Trice brothers; Richard and Welly, while Tarter and Gay's brilliant "Unknown Blues" is one of the finest examples of East Coast blues. 46 tracks over 2 discs at a low price make this tough to beat. Strongly recommended.
"Prison Blues" (KATCD 179) continues the Catfish label's rummaging into lost and forgotten sides from the blues wizards that wandered the countryside looking for places to play. This single disc with over an hour of music delivers the goods right from the beautifully designed sleeve with well-written liner notes to the 23 tracks of songs aimed at jails, jailers, prisons, and prisoners; usually the artists were the subject of the story. Kokomo Arnold's "Chain Gang Blues" from 1935 is a grizzly tale of bloody murder (Paul Muni's role in the 1932 film "I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang" is disturbingly on target) while Buddy Boy Hawkins tells of an unsuccessful attempt at freedom in "Jailhouse Fire." Fred McMullen resurfaces here for "DeKalb Chain Gang" from a New York session recorded in 1933, and again, is strong and convincing. Big Maceo's wonderful "County Jail" from 1941 with Tampa Red in tow is meaningful and Bukka White's personal account of "Parchman Farm Blues" comes from him having living quarters there. Leroy Carr's "Christmas In Jail, Ain't That A Pain" is humorous and runnin' partner Scrapper Blackwell plays his usually fine guitar. Others worthy of mention are Ed Bell on "Big Rock Jail," Leadbelly's incredible "Midnight Special," and Blind Blake "Doin A Stretch" from a 1929 recording date. There's lots more packed in this fine release and it's well worth picking up.
"Texas Blues" (KATCD 181) continues the 2-disc reissue series and runs the gamut from solo guitarists like Little Hat Jones, who accompanies himself, and Texas Alexander from a 1929 session, and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Also, strong focus is given to the piano, a popular instrument due to the large number of turpentine camps and lumber mills that dotted the landscape in the 1920's and 1930's. With pianos being part of the furniture in many of these locales, players like Alex Moore and Robert Cooper would ramble across the state, dishing out boogie and blues for the workers to gamble, drink, and socialize by. Little Hat's "Rolled From Side To Side" starts disc one, the more guitar oriented of the two discs, with Jones, Jefferson, Henry Thomas, Jesse Thomas, and others. Oscar Woods is fine on his "Don't Sell It-Don't Give It Away" with some distinct slide work, and moves aside for the Black Ace's 1937 ragged-and-right recording of "Triflin' Woman." Born Babe Kyro Lemon Turner, Ace played Hawaiian style with the guitar across his lap. Chris Strachwitz found him working as an auto mechanic in the 1960's and recorded him on his own Arhoolie label. Jesse Thomas is also well-worth a listen with the tough "Down In Texas Blues," from 1929. Thomas was another who had a long career, and recorded over a seven decade period. Disc two features some superb piano blues from Whistlin' Alex Moore with "West Texas Woman." From 1929, Moore shows a relaxed Lone Star approach, and his whistling on "Heart Wrecked Blues" is a nice touch. Black Ivory King contributes two piano showcases with "Matchbox Blues" and "The Flying Crow," a tribute to one of the many rail lines these men rode as they traveled from turpentine camp to lumber mill. Cooper lays out a rumbling "West Dallas Drag No. 1" from 1937, and closes out assisting Joe Pullum's squalling vocals on "What Makes Your Head So Hard" from 1934. From a bygone era, the "Texas Blues" compilation is a welcome addition of some little-known titles, by names we should all be familiar with.
While Ohio doesn't come to mind when thinking of cities with major blues talent, Catfish Records digs deep into the vaults of the past for a fine two-disc set of "Cincinnati Blues" (KATCD 186). With a location accessible from many rail lines, performers from many states traveled to the city to play on street corners and the many jukes that sprang up there. Sam Jones, pretty much a one-man band, was very popular and has seven sides on disc one. His guitar work is effective while his harmonica captures train sounds, and his kazoo, played through a stovepipe, resembles a slide guitar (and even a cello) on the fine "Court Street Blues." He's accompanied by a David Crockett on guitar for "A Woman Gets Tired Of The Same Man All The Time" and "A Chicken Can Waltz The Gravy Around." Kid Cole seems to make a number of appearances under a variety of names and starts his program off with "Sixth Street Moan," helped along by Sam Jones' guitar and harmonica. He likely pops up again as Bob Coleman for a couple, and is especially interesting for "Cincinnati Underworld Woman." Walter Davis is potent on "M & O Blues" with Roosevelt Sykes' hefty piano backing, while the curiously-named 'Sweet Papa Tadpole' could also be Kid Cole. There are similarities in phrasing and vocal styles, but also differences that keep researchers guessing. In any event, Tadpole is convincing on his half-dozen, done more in a hokum style, while Tampa Red's supple slide work adds even more interest. Disc two features yet more aliases for Kid Cole, using Walter Cole for "Mama Keep Your Yes Ma'am Clean" and "Everybody Got Something," plus Kid Coley on another four tracks! Leroy Carr, one of the more popular blues performers of the early 20th century, creeps in with the excellence he was always known for on "George Street Blues," and is assisted by his partner of many years, Scrapper Blackwell, although session details fail to mention a guitar on the recording. Walter Coleman is a standout on this 2-CD set; his guitar playing is heavily laced with Piedmont touches and is assisted by an unknown second guitarist, and both manage some strong interlocked riffing on "Going To Cincinnati" and "Greyhound Blues." Jesse James, a muscular pianist and a deep-voiced singer, closes out this set with the final four tracks. His "Sweet Patuni" is a fine risqué piece, while "Southern Casey Jones" is a stomping boogie, and the slow, captivating "Highway 61" is worth the price of admission all by itself. Catfish is stepping well ahead of other labels in the reissue stakes by putting together strong two-disc sets at a single-disc price. They are also incorporating many lesser known names along with those easily recognized to many. There's something for everyone is these latest releases from a label dedicated to excellence. For more info, full track listings, and their entire catalog, visit: www.catfishrecords.co.uk
This review is copyright © 2001 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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