One of my very favorite Chess Records from the 1960s is “Blind Man” by Little Milton, released on Chess’ Checker subsidiary. Below is a rare televised performance from January of 1966 on a show called “The !!!! Beat”. “The !!!! Beat” was a program that was hosted by Nashville disc jockey Bill “Hoss” Allen.
The song itself was originally released by Bobby “Blue” Bland, who does a jazzier rendition. But Little Milton’s version is all heart and glowing grit. Chess Records session men on the Little Milton version put in a characteristically stellar performance, as well. It’s beautifully brassy Chicago blues-soul of the highest order.
Notably, neither version of “Blind Man” was a hit. But the song was covered later in the 1960s by British rock-jazz group Traffic. A live recording of their version was released in 1969, after the original lineup of Traffic broke up.
But this is Little Milton. He’s hooked and he can’t let her go. Of this, I am wholly convinced. Jive on.
Chicago is known worldwide for its electrified Delta Blues. Chicago’s also known for its sweet Soul Music. And during the 1960s, those musical traditions combined at Four Brothers, a tiny record label based at a famous West Side Chicago record shop called Barney’s One-Stop. This podcast features some of the hip, soul-flavored blues from the Four Brothers label. Plus, we hear soulful blues from all corners of the city.
A bit about 4 Brothers:
The label existed from 1965 through 1967. Its sister label was Bright Star.
Willie Barney, Jack Daniels (A&R / Production), Granville White were the principal “brothers”. The fourth “brother” might have been Harold Burrage (or maybe someone with business interests that preferred not to be named dot-dot-dot.)
In the late 1960s, Jack Daniels, along with Johnny Moore (another 4 Brothers/Bright Star associated artist and writer) cut a number of hard hitting soul records. In fact, Jack Daniels co-wrote Tyrone Davis’ blockbuster soul record “Turn Back the Hands of Time”. Tyrone Davis had recorded for 4 Brothers under the name Tyrone the Wonder Boy.
For fresh episodes of Reclaimed Soul, listen in Thursdays at 8pm CST on vocalo.org, or tune in to 89.5fm (NW Indy) and 90.7fm (CHI)
(above, 45 sleeve art by Johnny Spencer. for more on him, click here)
Not a lot is known about Amanda Love (which is probably an alias). What I do know is that she put out this bluesy number on Mel London’s Starville label about 1967. Mel London was a Chicago songwriter/producer/record label owner who was instrumental in launching the careers of Junior Wells and Ricky Allen.
Amanda Love’s record “You Keep Calling Me by Her Name” is the sort of record that swung in many a South Side tavern here in Chicago. It sort of sounds like the result of if Nancy Wilson had come to Chicago to record back then: polished vocals atop a rough and ready track. Jive on!
signifying (verb): a good-natured needling or goading especially among urban blacks by means of indirect gibes and clever often preposterous put-downs
Ricky Allen recorded the booming groover “I Can’t Stand No Signifying” on Jack Daniels’ West Side-based Four Brothers label round about 1966. Both Jack Daniels and Johnny Moore (the co-writer on this track) created blues-soaked soul cuts for a number of artists, including Junior Wells, throughout the late 1960s.
Ricky Allen, a native Nashvillian, came to Chicago in 1958, and was very popular on the blues club circuit in the 1960s. One of his songs, Mel London’s “Cut You A-Loose” charted on the R&B Charts in 1963, and even got heavy airplay on Top 40 pop station WLS. Allen recounted in a 1993 Chicago Tribune interview with Bill Dahl:
“I got back, man, WLS – they didn’t play no blues. (But) Every time you turned on the station, it was on.”
“Signifying” has got exactly the sock it to me-slash-somebody’s ’bout to get cut vibe I love. To me, this gritty music is the link between the blues brought North in a satchel during the Great Migration and the glossier Chicago Soul (complete with lush strings and horns) that came later. Gotta love that piano riff at the top. Jive on.
The title cut off this 1968 album is a bluesy monster produced by Charles Stepney with more than enough groove to stay squarely in the pocket. Also on this album is the local hit “Up in Heah”, another blues-infused party track. Both of the records will make sceptics rethink the blues. According to the back of the album:
“Talk about somebody being “tuff” enough. One night in Pepper’s Lounge, a little night spot on Chicago’s South Side, Junior Wells was introduced as “the little Giant of the blues”. It was around midnight and the Chatter that had been incessant for about three hours ceased. In cool dignity the little black walked to the stage, and said: “I’m gonna sing them damn blues, and you’d better dig it.” This audience at Pepper’s where all the blues greats have passed through and left their mark, is as hip an audience as any performer ever faced. When you bring them slow blues it better be nasty, and when you swing it better make them move. Shoot blanks and you won’t last long. Junior Wells could stay there eternally. “
This is a record that embodies Chicago Grit and Get Down. “Good Lovin” by the legendary Otis Clay is at once a love song and a warning. Take heed. Says he: “And if you walk out my life, I hope you fall and break your neck”. If that ain’t grit, I don’t know what is….
A favorite at my gigs, it’s a mid seventies bluesy stomper with some wah wah sweetening by Benjamin Wright. Released on Echo Records here in Chicago, later on Elka Nationally. Enjoy.
In the mid-’70s, photographer Michael Abramson set his viewfinder on the South Side of Chicago, specifically the many clubs and lounges that served as Hothouses of street fashion (among them, the legendary High Chaparral and the Showcase Lounge). They reflected where blues, soul and disco collided: a dream of grit and gold lamé. The resulting photos have been compiled into the book A Light on the South Side.
The Numero Group presents: A Light On The South Side Release party, Discussion, and Social
Sunday, November 1st 2pm – 6pm
Chicago Cultural Center
Discussion with Michael Abramson and Rick Kogan in the Claudia Cassidy Theater
Reception in the G.A.R. Rotunda
Following the talk there will be a book signing and reception where Intelligentsia Coffee will be serving a special Numero-inspired creation, the 24-Carat Blend, and the Numero staff will be playing South Side classics in the G.A.R. Rotunda.
“Evil”. A fundamental Howlin Wolf record, created here in Chicago, back in the 1950s. A platter of standard electrified Delta Blues. Now, add Marshall Chess (son of Chess Records’ Leonard Chess), the turbulent and psychedelic 1960s, and some of the best jazz, funk, and soul studio players in the city. Remake and enjoy.
Well that’s not exactly true. Howlin Wolf (above) didn’t like the remake. Actually, the first album of such remakes, released on Chess Records’ Cadet Concept label was called:
‘This is Howlin’ Wolf’s
He doesn’t like it.
He didn’t like his electric
guitar at first either.’
The album, the brainchild of Marshall Chess, was a product of the times. In the sixties, white rock groups from America and the UK were gangstering Chicago Blues records. They remade them nearly word for word and listed themselves as artists, thus robbing originators like Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters out of royalties. Chess decided to re-record the artists performing their own compositions in a then-contemporary psychedelic blues style. The albums were panned by purist critics, the same critics that called white psychedelic blues artists like Cream “visionary”.
But, I like it. And I hope you do, too. For info on Muddy Waters’ psychedelic blues remakes, click here.
I, for one, have stared for more than a moment at the forgotten, peeled paint on the side of the 408 Club building over on 79th Street (just East of King Drive). In mid-seventies hipster font, the ad reads “Sheba Disco”, apparently some sort of disco club. I’ve wondered what manner of elephant bells and Quiana was to be found there in its heyday.
In the mid-’70s, photographer Michael Abramson set his viewfinder on the South Side of Chicago, specifically the many clubs and lounges that served as Hothouses of street fashion (among them, the legendary High Chaparral and the Showcase Lounge). They reflected where blues, soul and disco collided: a dream of grit and gold lamé.
Those photos have been compiled inLight: On the South Side, which is set for a November release by local label Numero Group. The package also includes a 17-track vinyl-only comp entitled Pepper’s Jukebox, featuring various local juke joint luminaries including Bobby Rush and Little Mack. Cratediggers, this one also includes the one-time cockroach of Chicago 45rpm collecting: “I’m a Streaker, Baby” by Arlean Brown. Remember that one? Couldn’t even give that one away, it was so plentiful. Anyway, check out the photo gallery, above (from the forthcoming book). Be inspired. Jive on.
The late sixties in Chicago was a wild time. The Democratic National Convention and the Riots in 1968 labeled us as unruly, Serial Killer Richard Speckin 1966 labeled us as unsafe, and Martin Luther King, Jr., (marching in North Lawndale for equal housing in 1966), labeled us as a place that “The people of Mississippi ought to come to….to learn how to hate”. And yet we created such sweet music…
Roaring blues, sophisticated jazz, gritty garage rock, smoothed out vocal pop, and shimmering soul (among other genres) all “jus grew” here. Chess Records (based near 22nd and Michigan) was, in fact, the epicenter of the Electrified Delta Blues that changed the sound of popular American music FOREVER. That was the music that served as rock-and-roll’s bassinet. So it was no surprise that Chess Records, nearing the end of the 1960s and reinvigorated with fresh young talent (producer/arranger Charles Stepney, drummer Morris Jennings, and guitarist Phil Upchurch among them), decided to have their living legend artists (i.e. Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf) re-record their groundbreaking 1950s work in an updated funky psychedelic blues style.
White psychedelic rock artists had been ripping off their artists’ work for years. Now they were, in effect, reworking their own art. Muddy and Wolf weren’t feeling it. Critics of the day panned the works. Yet, today, the albums born out of this time (including “Electric Mud”) have an almost cultish following. Produced by Marshall Chess and the legendary Gene Barge, this body of work is just another example of good old Chicago invention….. For a sample of Howlin Wolf’s psychedelic blues tryst, click here.
Drummer Morris Jennings discusses Muddy Waters’ album “Electric Mud” with Ethnologist Jeff Thomas.