Like your Blues straight up, no chaser? Like a good shot of bourbon, this CD goes down smooth, and before you know it, things are heatin' up! "Greenville Smokin' " has long been overdue in the form of a compact disc, and this is a welcome addition for collectors of piano, juke joint, or 1950's Blues, and those who realize the importance of Jackson, MS as a hotbed of talent from days long past. These sides have shown up on a number of compilations, but to my knowledge, this is the first time we have Willie Love's complete output as a leader in one CD.
Willie Love and his cronies, known as The Three Aces, delivered some rocking Blues years ago, and the 18 tracks collected here might get voted for 'Blues Reissue Album of the Year.' A member of Lillian McMurray's Trumpet stable in Jackson, and a close friend and musical associate of one Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), Willie Love was Delta Blues piano personified; that rough and tumble style.
Love made his home in Jackson, MS and played the juke joints along Nelson Street with Sonny Boy. The two traveled together playing at parties and barrelhouses throughout the Delta, and when Sonny Boy went into the studio in March of 1951, he brought Willie along to fill the piano duties. Trumpet's owner, Lillian McMurray, liked him enough to request his return in April of that year to cut his own sides. Love's first pairing was good, but returning in July of 1951 for another try, he brought one of the toughest Delta bands ever recorded to produce the rollicking "Everybody's Fishing." Willie led the charge from his piano stool and belted out the vocals as the band rocked right behind him. The smoking guitar work was handled by none other than Elmore James and Joe Willie Wilkins. The flip side was "My Own Boogie" featuring the tenor sax of Otis Green as the guitars churned beneath the surface with that classic, distorted Delta sound.
December of 1951 saw Love return to the studios again for what may have been his finest session. The band was stripped-down and simple; Little Milton on guitar, T.J. Green playing the bass fiddle and Junior Blackman sitting at the drums, while Love pounded the keys and voiced his happiness and trouble on eight sides. The simplicity of the band is what makes this music as great as it is, but what's more surprising is the mature guitar work of the young 'Little' Milton Campbell, who was just 17 at the time! This session produced the next four releases for the Trumpet label, numbers 172 through 175. The legacy of Campbell would have been solid for these sides alone had he not gone on to greatness in later years for the Chess Brothers and other label owners. Lillian McMurray once said that she knew little of the record business, but the sound on these recordings is like having been in the room when they were cut. If she knew little of the business, she did know well enough to leave things in the capable hands of good engineers. "Falling Rain" and everything else recorded that December day are pure magic, with the bass fiddle rumbling beneath as the rest of the band roars through over the top, Willie Love plays some beautiful piano and sings his heart out. The tribute to the bustling center of activity in Jackson shows up on "Nelson Street Blues," as Love sings about everything from barbershops to juke joints and even a dry cleaning business!
Love did not record again until March of 1953 and those two tracks remained unissued for years. His old friend, Joe Willie Wilkins, returned with him to play guitar on two plaintive sides; "Worried Blues" and "Lonesome World Blues." It's been said that Willie had been drinking way too much back then and his troubles seem to show on these two cuts. Differing greatly from his last session more than a year before, the overall feel on this pair is that of sadness.
In April, Willie and Sonny Boy made a trip to the ACA Studios in Houston, TX and recorded with a house band. Willie's good time spirit showed up once again on "Way Back" and "Shout Brother, Shout," but these sides also remained on the shelf for years. This was the last time Willie Love's playing would be recorded. On August 19th of 1953, Willie Love died after suffering the effects of heavy drinking and hard living for years.
"Greenville Smokin' " is a wonderful compilation and tribute to one of the greatest Delta artists who stepped inside a recording studio. It is a shame, however, that as close as Willie Love and Sonny Boy Williamson were, Willie only showed up on Sonny Boy's records. I'd have loved to hear Willie singing with his good friend and compadre, Sonny Boy, blowing behind him. If you're a fan of early 50's Blues, pick this up and enjoy it, and while you're getting this one, try Sonny Boy Williamson's "I Ain't Beggin' Nobody" CD where Willie Love plays piano behind his buddy. These are the kind of records they can't make anymore, but luckily, they can find their way to us through great reissue projects!
Purple Pyramid - PMB 251 - 13428 Maxella Ave. - Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
(Reprinted with permission of the author and the 'Delta Snake' website www.netmagic.net/~snake)
This review is copyright © 2000 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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