This Week In Blues History
Gertrude Rainey; Born Apr 26, 1886 in Columbus, GA; Died Dec 22, 1939 in Columbus, GA
Born and raised in Columbus, Georgia, Ma Rainey (born Gertrude Pridgett) began singing professionally when she was a teenager, performing with a number of minstrel and medicine shows. In 1904, she married William "Pa" Rainey and she changed her name to "Ma" Rainey. The couple performed as "Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues" and toured throughout the south, performing with several minstrel shows, circuses, and tent shows. According to legend, she gave a young Bessie Smith vocal lessons during this time. By the early '20s, Ma Rainey had become a featured performer on the Theater Owners' Booking Association circuit.
She retired from performing in 1933, settling down in her hometown of Columbus. In 1939, Ma Rainey died of a heart attack. She left behind an immense recorded legacy, which continued to move and influence successive generations of blues, country, and rock & roll musicians. In 1983, Rainey was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame; seven years later, she was inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. -- Jim O'Neal & Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide
CLICK HERE to LISTEN to Boogies Favorite "Ma Rainey" cut
"To me, its one of the most meaningful musics that have ever been expressed because the blues comes from the soul..."
One of the Blues foremost artists--by anybodys standards--is Little Milton. A blues legend on the Sun, Chess, Stax, MCA and Malaco labels, hes been recording for almost half a century. Although the native of the blues-rich Mississippi Delta has earned hits and honors too vast to recount, one of his recent milestones was winning the coveted Pioneer Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation in 1997.
He was born Milton Campbell on September 7, 1934, outside of Inverness, Mississippi in a sharecroppers modest home. Soon after, his family moved to nearby Greenville, where he was exposed to blues, gospel and country music. It was there that he built his first guitar -- by nailing wire to the side of his familys house.
Later, a very young Little Milton ordered a little Roy Rogers-style guitar from a mail order catalog -- without his mothers knowledge. But he had secretly worked and saved for the $14-and-some-cent bundle of dreams by picking cotton and taking any odd job that came along. So his mama let him keep the guitar -- a wise decision that he teased her about for the rest of her long life.
"Coming up, Milton played white honky-tonk clubs on weeknights and black clubs on weekends around the Greenville area," Milton recalls. Just across the river in Helena, Ark., Milton found himself playing local gigs with the legendary Sonny Boy Williamson and Willie Love.
While playing with Love, Milton met Sun Records A&R scout Ike Turner, another Mississippi Delta upstart. Sun owner Sam Phillips gave Milton his first big break, signing him to the Memphis label in 1953. After Sun, Milton moved to East St. Louis Bobbin Records where he cut his own first hit "Im A Lonely Man" in 1958.
Over the years, Milton has worked with a virtual whos who of influential black artists -- including Isaac Hayes, Rufus & Carla Thomas, Booker T. & The M.G.s, Albert King, and Betty Wright.
Some of Little Miltons cuts that have become American blues standards are Annie Maes Café, The Blues Is Alright, Little Bluebird, Strugglin Lady, Comeback Kind of Love, Cheatin Habit, If Walls Could Talk, and Grits Aint Groceries.
My Favorite Milton Side Is Walking The Back Streets and Crying !!! Happy Birthday Milton
|The Daddy of Rock and Roll
When the rock historians have finished their tea break and start swapping notes, they might then realise that Ike Turner's "Rocket 88" was rollin' a couple of years before Bill Haley's clock struck one, and that the wall of sound wasn't entirely built by Phil Spector, and that Ike's tremelo arm was flexing way before that of Hank Marvin and a good decade before Hendrix discovered his whammy bar.
At the very least, Ike Turner's account of his life has got to be a fascinating read, but at best could be one of the most important post-war blues stories ever told.
For a start, his involvement in the careers of Howling Wolf, B.B. King, Elmore James, Little Milton, etc, could induce writer's cramp with just the thought of such illustrious encounters. Add to this Ike's amazing capability to have manifested his seal of excellence on some of the most influential blues tracks ever cut--Wolf's "How Many More Years", Otis Rush's Cobra sides "Double Trouble" and "All Your Love", and Buddy Guy's early Artistic recordings, to mention but a few. Combining this with his "day job" leading the star-studded band "The Kings Of Rhythm", this human dynamo still made time to create a string of hits and hustle a record deal or two! Then of course, later, there was the Ike & Tina Revue...
While Ike in his own right has been examined discographically and his pre-Tina recordings justifiably lauded, his recent public persona has been portrayed as that of a villain, worthy only of the worst tabloid newspapers. It is doubtful whether the world at large even know he's a musician, let alone one whose innovations and influence contribute a truly awesome significance to popular music, yet to be fully quantified and acknowledged.
So what does lie behind this musical genius, and what is the man really like? TAKIN' BACK MY NAME is the title of a forthcoing biography to be published by Headline, and here its author, NIGEL CAWTHORNE, gives us a preview and glimpse into the hitherto unpublicised side of Ike's life.
Wifebeater. That is the one word response that I got from everyone I spoke to in 1993 when I told them that I was going to write a book about Ike Turner. Everybody thought that Ike was a talentless hustler who had only had any sort of career by hanging on to Tina's coat-tails. This impression had been created by the book "I, Tina" in which Tina admits to being very violent herself, a Channel 4 documentary produced by her manager, and the movie 'What's Love Got To Do With It?', which portrays Ike as a huge man dominating the petite Tina. Look at any of their early album covers. He is small and wiry; she is the one carrying the meat.
It was the Channel 4 documentary that annoyed me the most. In it were Mick Jagger, Elton John and David Bowie. They all praised Tina to the skies - as well they might. But they said nothing about Ike.
Even the most cursory reading of the history of popular music shows that Ike Turner began rock'n' roll. Little Richard confirmed to me that he had never even touched a piano until he had heard Ike Turner's 'Rocket 88' on the radio. 'When people talk about rock 'n' roll, they talk about Chuck Berry. They talk about Fats Domino. They talk about Little Richard. They leave the main thing out,' Richard said.'It ain't Little Richard, it ain't Chuck, it ain't Fats Domino ... no, we came on later. Before all these people, IkeTurner was doing his thing. He is the innovator.'
Rock 'n' roll has made Jagger, John and Bowie very wealthy indeed - they could at least have made a nod in his direction. Ike's only appearance in the documentary was in the blue uniform of the California State Penitentiary.
When 'What's Love Got To Do With It?' came out, the hostility against Ike was running so high that it seemed to me that he had been tried in the court of world public opinion, found guilty and sentenced without anybody hearing the case for the defence. This son of Mississippi had been Iynched and I determined to do something about it. So what if he was a wifebeater? He was also a man who had made a contribution. He was a significant figure. There are two sides to every story. And even a murderer gets counsel for the defence.
It took me about three weeks to get his phone number. I called him and asked him if I could write a book about him. He said sure. He was fresh out of jail and felt that he was not getting too many phone calls at the time. Then came the hard part. Publishers go to the movies too and, although they are liberal by nature, they have to sell into a market that is not. Besides, these days publishers - especially American publishers - have to be seen to be politically correct. Ike Turner - who peppers his conversation with 'chicks','niggers' and 'motherfuckers' - is anything but PC. But eventually over lunch a friend arranged, I managed to talk a British publisher into it.
Then came the really hard part. Have you ever tried to make a deal with an old rock'n' roller? These guys want cash in their pocket before they say a word. They have been ripped off by the white man once, twice, probably a 100 times too often. My literary agent earned every penny of his 10 per cent.
After endless rounds of negotiations, with Ike chipping into our percentages at every turn, a deal was done and I went to California to hang out with the man. He was, of course, charm itself. Women fell at his feet, despite the reputation the movie had given him.
While women loved him, in banks and shops and in the street, many men saw him as a hero. One black guy even told me,'The man had to do, what he had to do.'
This is not to say that Ike is Mr Nice Guy. He has a volcanic temper and can be scary to be with. But he can also be kind and generous. The singer Barbara Cole told me that after she had an operation for polyps on her vocal cords, he took her in and taught her to sing again.
While I was with Ike, he helped one of his new Ikettes and her four children escape from an abusive husband. I suggested that he set up the Ike Turner Refuge for Battered Wives, though I doubt he would get support from many women's groups.
The man works tirelessly. He hands out pictures and handbills, and signs autographs like he is a politician running for office. But he knows that it all counts. He presses the flesh in the soul-food restaurants he eats in twice a day and he will even pull over a police car to hand the officers a glossy ten-by-eight, signed, with a handwritten message - 'What's love got to do with it? Not a goddam thing' perhaps. This is the way he reaches his public. Sadly, they cannot see him often. His new band - fronted by four girl singers in short dresses - rarely gets to play in the US. But they can be seen on the Continent, in Australia, South America and the Far East. In 1994, they won an award for being the best live band in Japan.
Partly due to the success of Salt 'n' Peppa's 'Shoop Song' - which is one of his - Ike drives a gold Mercedes and dresses like a rock star. He has a studded leather jacket, painted silver; purp]e suits; collarless shirts; leather riding boots. His hands are heavy with chunky gold rings and bracelets. And round his neck hangs a gold scorpion encrusted with diamonds. Scorpio is his star sign - but it would suit him anyway.
He is certainly a dominating character. Travelling anywhere with him, you turn into an acolyte. You get to stand behind him like a minder - then you get asked to run out to the car to get more pictures, dial phone numbers and hold things for him. I stood just a couple of months of this. How did Tina manage 18 years?
But then when you are alone with him and he plays the piano or the guitar and sings an old blues song, or you hear him composing, you know you are in the presence of a genius.
He and I made an odd couple hanging out in the clubs and afer-hours joints of Los Angeles - a streetwise black from the Deep South and a suburban white from the Home Counties. We made an even odder couple when we travelled down to Clarksdale, Mississippi, where he was born.
'You and me couldn't have done this back then,' he pointed out as we sped down highway 61 which runs through the heart of the Delta.
Clarksdale is about the size of Reigate, Surrey, only it is in terminal decay. It was a bit like going to the Isle of Wight or Staten Island - leaping back 40 years. People were friendly, but suspicious. Guns bristled in pockets.
We visited the house where Ike was born. He pointed out where his father's body had been dumped after being fatally beaten by a white mob.He took me on a tour of the places where he had his first sexual experiences, the Riverside Hotel where he had hung out with Robert Nighthawk and the house of a friend's father where he had first heard Pinetop Perkins play the piano - a moment that changed his life.
We went to the gas station where he had seen Denzil Turner, an epileptic, shot dead by the police because he was having a fit. There were no hospitals for blacks, back then. If you got hit by a car, you were dead.
And we went to the Compress, where at 15 Ike had seen a black man shoot 26 white men before they got him. The Klan slashed his throat and shoved his severed penis into the gaping wound - as a warning to others. It was a warning Ike Turner refused to listen to.
The Alcazar Hotel, where Ike had first worked as a lift attendant, was closed. But Ike sat on the pavement outside where over 50 years ago, he sat doing the unthinkable in the segregated South - watching the white girls in their little mink stoles getting out of the boyfriends' daddies' cars and thinking of things he knew he could never have.
Although the hotel was shut, the radio station, WROX, was still broadcasting from the second floor. This was where a teenage Ike had been a disc jockey. Those early days had given him an encyclopedic knowledge of not just the blues, but also jazz - his favourite artist is Louis Jordan - and country and western - his favourite type of music.
We could not make out if the town was now integrated. Ike was convinced it was not. As we drove out through the posh Oakerhurst area, he barked repeatedly, 'Ain't no niggers living out here.'
We also discovered that just two years ago, the municipal swimming pool had been filled in after a series of racial incidents. It seems that in Clarksdale, at least, blacks and whites still cannot get used to using the same water.
Despite his background, Ike is untainted by racial prejudice. He is simply brutally frank about it. The only colour he is the least concerned about is the colour of money-- greenbacks or pink cashiers' cheques only, thank you very much.
We travelled back up the long flat road north to Tennessee and freedom, which Ike had first taken as a kid on his bike, nearly 55 years ago. It was the same road he had taken in 1951 with the Kings Of Rhythm, on their way to their first recording session at the Sun studio in Memphis. As they had pulled out of Clarksdale, Jackie Brenston pointed out that they might need some original material. Up until then they had been covering the jukebox. So on the way, they wrote 'Rocket 88'.
Back in Memphis we went to the Peabody Hotel. The player-piano in the lobby has a sign on it which says, conspicuously:'Do Not Touch'. Ike walked straight up to it and thundered out a boogie woogie. A bossy middle-aged woman rushed up to reprimand him. He said with a cheeky smile,'Sorry ma'am, but when I first came to Memphis you didn't allow no niggers in here.'
Now he was staying in the Celebrity Suite.
We went to Sun, which he had not visited since the early 1950s. He thought it had closed down. When he walked in the door he went straight to a piano and played, incongruously, the theme from 'Chariots Of Fire'.
It is true, lke Turner is a maddening individual. His little goatee beard and his square-cuthair, raised slightly at the sides like horns, make him look like the devil. He has a diabolical laugh. But he is undoubtedly a human being - a tough, talented, irrepressible, complex human being.
But when Ike Turner was busted for drugs, he did not complain that he was from a broken home. There was no special pleading. He took his punishment like a man. Now he asks for just one thing. He is 64. He says that, statistically, black men in the United States die at 65. He has one year left and he just wants to play his music.
Ike Turner has contributed to the world. He has given to it more than he will take away. He has suffered more than his accusers. When he just asks to play, who could deny him that?
COMING JULY 23: SOLOMON BURKE'S "DON'T GIVE UP ON ME."
What's become of soul music? It didn't die with Otis Redding; it didn't stop when Al Green quit; it didn't fade with James Browns voice--it's been in Los Angeles the entire time, under the astute and faithful stewardship of Solomon Burke. Burke, the King of Rock & Soul, the Bishop, is a big man with an even bigger talent, a revered vocalist whose mastery is unmatched by any other proponent of the style he largely originated. Burke embodies deep soul, with a forty plus year career that's produced a series of records consistently profound in emotional, artistic and spiritual gravity.
Early hits like "Cry To Me" and "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" (both covered by the Rolling Stones) are blueprints, soul music essentials, and Otis Redding's choice to re-make Burke's "Down In The Valley" points to the man as a powerful influence. As Peter Guralnick noted, Burke has served far too long as "The King In Exile"; despite a towering reputation among peers and fans alike, and his 2001 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the singer remains somewhat of a mystifyingly under-appreciated figure. With the release of Don't Give Up On Me, his Fat Possum debut, the widely acknowledged King of Rock & Soul is liable to ascend to a height equal to his glorious 1960s reign at Atlantic Records.
While any exposure to the Burke style guarantees instant and enduring appreciation, the roster of song contributors on this disc are, in and of themselves, a strong testimonial to Burke's implacable spell: Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Tom Waits, Joe Henry, with key contributions from legendary veteran writers Dan Penn, Mann & Weil, all contributed commercially unreleased original compositions, either specifically custom tailored to, or innately suited for the interpretive genius of this unrivaled singer. (In Morrisons case, both songs wound up on his own latest album). Never before has such a cross-section of revered pop talent enthusiastically converged on one album, but there are precious few vocalists on the aerie artistic level of Solomon Burke.
Always put across in an utterly relaxed manner, an ease that veils smoldering intensity, Burke is peerless. Born of secular passion yet informed by his gospel background, just listening to Burke deliver a lyric is mesmerizing. It prompts an almost trancelike state of mind, as if the very tone of voice imparts an electrochemical reaction a psychological transition that once made allows Burke's phrasing and mastery of nuance to envelop and sway you off into a place no other singer can. This transportive quality is born of a rare mix; Burke has led an extraordinary life: born March 21, 1940 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by age 7 dubbed The Boy Wonder Preacher, he was a crown and regal robe clad youth sermonizing not just to the congregation attending his family's church, but also to those who tuned in regular broadcasts on WDAS. While still in his teens, he made his first gospel records for East Coast indie Apollo, scoring a million seller with 1954's "Christmas Presents from Heaven." In 1960, age 24, he signed with R&B powerhouse Atlantic Records, concurrent to the label's acquisition of another gospel-trained talent, Aretha Franklin. With fabled record man Jerry Wexler, Burke began crafting a stunning series of classic records. Having raised a flock of 21 children, still active leading his own ministry, he's been summoned by Presidents and Popes, sold over 17 million records, and exhibits no signs whatsoever of slowing. As Wexler has said, "Burke is the greatest soul singer of them all," whose voice is "an instrument of exquisite sensitivity."
Don't Give Up On Me was recorded live in the studio over a four day period, with an ensemble anchored by Burke's church organist Brother Rudy Copeland and producer Joe Henry, and features contributions from guests Daniel Lanois and revered gospel outfit The Blind Boys of Alabama. From the opening title track, crafted with the typical genius of Dan Penn (the man responsible for "Do Right Woman" and "Dark End of the Street"), and sung with passionate restraint by Burke, the soul ethic is in full, rich bloom. "We just went in and did it." Burke said. "It was an amazing experience, and one of the first that I've done naturally live since the fifties. With the new technology it's amazing what can be done, but it's also amazing what can't be done, we're goin' back to the roots. It was a pleasure." On Van Morrison's "Fast Train" all Burke's resolute sanctified power is at work, and Tom Waits "Diamond In Your Mind" provides a fine, if unlikely, launching point for Burke's interpretive prowess. Joe Henry's "Flesh & Blood" is, as Burke said, "A great song. He's an exciting young man, a talented gentleman, he has a lot of thought, a lot of vision, and its very different, very inspirational--he knows exactly what he wants." The next track, Brian Wilson's "Soul Searching" is classic, with a brokenhearted, prowling-the-streets Solomon, working at very the top of his always prodigious form.
Burke's vocals, power undiminished, tempered by decades of performing and recording experience, is nothing less than a force of nature. With a healthy dose of honky-tonk weeper psychology and the clinical reality of his training as a mortician (a business he's still active in), Burke has unique philosophical and physiological insights into the human condition, that infuse the delivery of his songs. This extraordinary mix perfectly suits the nocturnal melancholy of Morrison's "Only A Dream" and the agonized finality of Elvis Costello's "The Judgment," (of which Burke said, "It's like an opera. It takes you back to that time, it takes you back to Europe"). On Bob Dylan's "Stepchild" Burke's warm shout and Daniel Lanois swamp-toned guitar converge for a magnificent case of blues funk atmosphere. The gospel mood of Nick Lowe's reflective lament "The Other Side of the Coin," written specifically for Burke, is a definite highlight. Lowe captures the conflict that a man of God who also happens to be a soul music legend invariably faces, and it's a perfect setup for the near apocalyptic declaration of Mann & Weil's "None of Us Are Free." With the Blind Boys of Alabama behind him, this is a heavy duty example of soul music as social conscience, a potent type of message song, equal parts harsh indictment and almost beatific resignation, that's been far too long lacking in pop music ("Ain't that heavy?" Burke enthused. "Oh man, that was one I could've done all night, with the Blind Boys on there, just keep on goin' . . .").
The wistful "Sit This One Out" winds down the set with a fine dose of Burke's characteristically dynamic style. From foreboding gloom to jubilant celebration, his phrasing, with the gracefully sculpted melisma of genuine gospel, the gut level impact of raw pain and yearning, his fluid use of intonation, shaping new contours within a single vowel, are so immediately affecting and shot full of artful reality, that it can only be described as a shrewdly crafted mix of day to day experience informed by a wholly metaphysical realm unique to Burke. "That is really what soul is about: what you put on it, what you make of it, how you spice it up, all the little extras you add to make it work. " Burke said. "The entire album was very exciting and it was heartrending to think all these writers, the Bob Dylans, Elvis Costellos, would even think of me. I would characterize these as art, pieces of art, songs that were designed in some way with me in mind, in each one of these writers minds--all of them are beautiful. I wanted each piece of that art to hang in my own palace. To me, they all belong in a special place. It was remarkable."
It's A Landslide: Clapton Wins!
Buddy Guy snags Blues Album of 2001
By the BluesWax Staff
The votes are in and Eric Clapton has been named BluesWax Blues Artist of 2001. Buddy Guy's Sweet Tea (Jive/Silvertone) has been named as our Blues Album of 2001. Thanks to our editors and especially to all our readers who submitted nominations of their favorite Blues artists and albums. Everyone pitched in again with the January 3, 2002 issue of BluesWax, in which the nominations were boiled down to two lists of five artists and five albums each. The winners emerged from the week of voting that lasted from January 3 through January 10.
Clapton's competition for Blues Artist of 2001 included Rod Piazza and The Mighty Flyers, Walter Trout, Sean Costello and Tommy Castro. All five of the artists nominated for Blues Artist of 2001 were featured in BluesWax's Blues Bytes section in 2001 for having played either many dates at small to large venues, or (as in Clapton's case) arenas and stadiums. The one exception is Rod Piazza and his band; they're being featured this week (see below).