Violin and blues may be comparatively rare bedfellows these days, but this wasn't always the case. If you need proof, the excellent collection of tunes on "Violin, Sing The Blues For Me" has over 70 minutes worth of supporting evidence. The artists and bands who used violin include several famous names too. Anyone with an interest in pre-war blues will recognize names like The Johnson Boys (including Lonnie Johnson on fiddle), Peg Leg Howell & his Gang, Frank Stokes, Bo Chatmon, Memphis Jug Band, Henry Sims, Joe Williams' Washboard Singers, Mississippi Sheiks, and Cow Cow Davenport. All of these appear here alongside several lesser known, but equally adept, blues fiddlers.
The album begins its journey with the Johnson Boys' "Violin Blues", and passes through rags, waltzes, blues, and shakedowns along the way before ending with Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong and Ted Bogan's "Ted's Stomp." And what a journey it is, with every stopping off point providing local interest. You just have to marvel at the musicianship on the Tennessee Chocolate Drops' "Vine Street Drag" which rattles along thanks to Howard Armstrong's almost frantic fiddle--which he even surpasses on "Ted's Stomp"--chased every inch of the way by Roland Martin on guitar and half-brother Carl Martin on string bass.
Other particular favorites include Peg Leg Howell & His Gang's "Beaver Slide Rag," the Mississippi Sheiks' "Stop and Listen Blues No. 2," Henry Sims' "Tell Me Man Blues" (accompanied by Charlie Patton), and Andrew and Jim Baxter's "The Moore Girl" a train blues in which one can easily imagine how the harmonica took over the role of the fiddle. This selection of tunes in no way denigrates any of the other tracks: every single one of them is delightful in its own right. Furthermore, given that the tracks have been remastered from disc, the surface noise is unobtrusive on the vast majority of tracks.
"Violin, Sing The Blues For Me" is possibly the best reissue of 1999, and Old Hat--full credit to Marshall Wyatt--have shown everyone how this sort of thing should be done. The selection of material is varied and interesting, the sound quality is very good, and the packaging is beautifully done with an information filled 32-page booklet all about the music and the artists. "Violin, Sing The Blues For Me" is essential listening which illustrates the transition from the traditions of the string band to the blues band. As such it is an album which belongs in the CD collections of pre-War blues fans, and of those who are interested in the history and development of the blues as a musical genre.
Old Hat Enterprises, P.O. Box 10309, Raleigh, NC 27605
Available on-line at www.countysales.com
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.