Among the last of the great country bluesmen, Townsend has never really gotten his due. Born in Shelby, Miss. and raised in southern Illinois, Townsend left home at age nine and made his way to St. Louis, where he began playing guitar at 15. He accompanied artists such as Walter Davis and Roosevelt Sykes and recorded some sessions as a leader, though some of these have been lost to the ages.
A versatile guitarist, Townsend added piano to his instrumental arsenal, and though he never achieved the widespread acclaim of peers John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, Robert Nighthawk and others, he helped establish St. Louis as a major blues center. Townsend gave up music in the 1950s and worked for years in a series of day jobs, only to be periodically rediscovered by various blues scholars.
In fact, it was during a slow point in the popularity of acoustic blues that old friend Big Joe Williams pointed the Adelphi recording crew to Townsend for this edition of the required Blues Vault series, the first songs of which were made in the basement music room of Townsend's St. Louis home.
This collection evolved over a period of five years, and is solid evidence of how the blues is a continuing evolution of styles and themes. "Cairo Blues" is another fine release from the folks at Adelphi/Genes.
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This review is copyright © 2000 by Matt Alcott, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.