After eight years running Impulse, one of jazz’s premier labels, Bob Thiele found himself at loggerheads with Larry Newton, the head of ABC Records. It looked as if Bob’s time at ABC was coming to an end. Given what he’d done for ABC, he was going to be sorely missed. Not only had he been responsible for producing seminal albums like John Coltrane’s A Love, but was responsible for reviving blues legend B.B. King’s career. 

This came about when ABC launched a new blues imprint Bluesway. The nascent label’s debut album was B.B. King’s Blues Is King, which was produced by Bob Thiele. Blues Is King was the first of four consecutive B.B. King albums to reach the US R&B top twenty. When ABC what saw their was still an audience for blues music, they signed artists like Jimmy Reed, T-Bone Walker and John Lee Hooker. Bob Thiele, a huge blues fan, was really supportive of the project. 

Not only was Bob signing many of the artists, but he produced most of them. Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Otis Spann and George “Harmonica” Smith all had albums produced by Bob. He was dividing his time between Bluesway and Impulse, helping rejuvenate the career of blues veterans and at Impulse, producing groundbreaking music. However, behind the scenes, there was about to be a parting of the way between Bob Thiele and ABC Records.

On 29th April 1969, it was announced that Bob Thiele was leaving ABC Records. He was about to found not just one, but three labels. Flying Dutchman would release some of the most ambitious and inventive jazz, psychedelia, rock and electronic music. Amsterdam, Bob’s second label was responsible for releasing adult oriented pop. The final label was BluesTime, a blues label, which would rival ABC Records’ Bluesway. BluesTime would sign some of the giants of electric blues, including Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Otis Spann, T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner. These artists are among the ten artists that feature on Ace Records recently released compilation Dues Paid-The BluesTime Story. It features fifteen tracks from BluesTime’s back-catalogue. Before I tell you about the music on Dues Paid-The BluesTime Story, I’ll tell you about Bob Thiele’s career in music.

Bob Thiele was born in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn in 1922, and from an early age, immersed himself in music. Aged fourteen, Bob got his  first job in music, hosting a jazz radio show. At the same time, Bob an accomplished clarinet player, was a member of a jazz band. Then when he left school, aged seventeen, Bob Thiele founded his own label Signature Records. 

After founding Signature Records in 1939, Bob signed musicians who’d become legends of jazz. This included Donald Byrd, Lester Young and Errol Gardner. One of the biggest signing came in 1943, when Signature signed Coleman Hawkins. Five years later, in 1948, Signature became insolvent. Bob wasn’t out of music long though. He was soon working with Decca Records.

Having started work for Decca Records, Bob Thiele found himself running its imprint Coral Records. It was at Decca, Bob met his future wife, Teresa Brewer, a singer who he was producing. Having established his reputation at Decca, where he spent most of the fifties, in 1961, an opportunity arose to become head of A&R at one of jazz’s most influential labels, Impulse Records.

Creed Taylor, left Impulse to run Verve Records. This left a massive void needing filled. Bob Thiele was the man to do this. He’d established a reputation as a talented and forward-thinking producer. This was perfect for Impulse. Over the next eight years, their roster included John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Max Roach, Chico Hamilton, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and Louis Armstrong. 

Bob started work at Impulse 1961 and spent eight years there. During that time, Bob Thiele enjoyed the busiest period of his career. Bob, he was hardly away from the studio, producing over 150 albums in eight years. This included John Coltrane’s seminal album A Love Supreme. Ironically, Bob’s most successful production was Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World. Not all of Bob Thiele’s production’s were as successful. Innovative music didn’t always equate to commercially successful music. 

Through working with some of the most innovative and creative musicians in the history of jazz, Bob must have realized that often, large record companies aren’t the best environment for innovative and creative musicians. Often, these musical mavericks didn’t thrive within such an orthodox environment. Their creativity is restricted, meaning they’re unable to experiment and innovate like they’d like. 

Soon, Bob Thiele, would be able to create an environment where this would be possible. By 1969, Bob had been at Impulse for eight years. He’d been responsible for producing some of the most important jazz music of the sixties. At the same time, Bob was rejuvenating the career of some of the giants of blues music.

ABC Records founded Bluesway in 1967. Their first release was B.B. King’s Blues Is King. Produced by Bob Thiele, Blues Is King was the first of four consecutive B.B. King albums to reach the US R&B top twenty. When ABC what saw their was still an audience for blues music, they signed artists like Jimmy Reed, T-Bone Walker, John Lee Hooker, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and Otis Spann. Over the next two years, all these artists had albums produced by Bob Thiele. By 1969, despite Bob’s success at Impulse and BluesTime, Bob’s relationship with ABC Records was at breaking point. Something had to give.

Proving there’s no sentiment in music, Bob Thiele was the victim of a musical coup d’tat. Bob Thiele was ousted from his role at Impulse. This proved to the start of the next chapter in his career. 

Leaving Impulse in 1969, Bob founded three new labels, Flying Dutchman Productions, Amsterdam and BluesTime. Flying Dutchman would release some of the most ambitious and inventive jazz, psychedelia, rock and electronic music. Amsterdam, Bob’s second label would go on to release adult oriented pop. The final label was BluesTime, a blues label, which would rival ABC Records’ Bluesway.

For the newly founded BluesTime, Bob continued to sign true blues legends. Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Otis Spann, T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton and Harmonica Slim. Bob then found material that would allow these blues greats to shine. After that, he took them into the studio, where they were accompanied by some of the top session musicians. For BluesTime’s first release Bob didn’t turn to a blues legend. No. Instead, he turned to The Plaster Caster Blues Band, who are one of ten artists to feature on Ace Records’ Dues Paid-The BluesTime Story, which I’ll tell you about.

Rather than release an album by a high-profile blues player, Bob Thiele decided The Plaster Caster Blues Band’s eponymous debut album should be BluesTime’s first release. Released in 1969, the album includes Chicago Charva Chapter which features on Dues Paid-The BluesTime Story. Featuring mostly jazz musicians, including Bobby Bryant, Gildo Mahone and drummer Max Hardy, Chicago Charva Chapter is a languid, laid-back track, where jazz, easy-listening and even funk unite. That’s until Harmonica Smith blows his blues harp. This transforms the track, resulting in a glorious genre-melting, blues-tinged track. 

Harmonica Slim blues apprenticeship began when he joined  Lowell Fulson’s band as an eighteen year old. Heading out on tour, he honed his sound and four years later, released his debut single You Better Believe It. It have him a minor hit and resulted in him working alongside some of the biggest names in blues music. He also released singles on labels like Aladdin, Spry and Vita Records. One thing he’d never done, was release an album. Then in 1969, Harmonica Slim released his debut album The Return Of harmonica Slim, which included Love and That’s Alright. Love epitomizes everything that’s good about electric blues. From the crystalline guitar, rasping horns and gut-wrenching vocal, this is electric blues at its best. As for That’s Alright, soulful, bluesy, full of hooks and heartache describes what is a tantalizing of Harmonica Slim at his best.

Before Big Joe Turner signed to BluesTime, he’d worked with Bob Thiele at Bluesway, ABC Records’ imprint. So it’s no surprise that when Bob founded his new  blues’ label, one of his first signings was Big Joe Turner, a true legend and blues veteran. His second album for BluesTime was Real Boss Of The Blues, released in 1969. It featured Shake, Rattle And Roll and Plastic Man. The best of these two tracks is Big Joe Turner’s version of the Carl Butler penned Shake, Rattle And Roll. Arranged by Gene Page and produced by Bob Thiele, it was released as a single. No wonder. During three minutes, Big Joe Turner is every inch the showman, vamps and struts his way through the track, fusing electric blues, jazz, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll. For anyone whose never heard Big Joe Turner before, then these two tracks are a tantalizing taste of what you’ve been missing.

Otis Spann was another member of the blues supergroup that featured on Super Black Blues in 1969. He also released his solo album Sweet Giant Of The Blues in August 1969. Produced by Bob Thiele, it features I’m A Dues Payin’ Man and I Wonder Why. These two tracks are the perfect introduction to Otis Spann. I’m A Dues Payin’ Man features virtuoso performances from Otis on piano and tenor saxophonist Tom Scott. A blistering, rocking blues, the finishing touch is Otis’ vocal. It’s a fusion of emotion and power. As for I Wonder Why, it’s quite different. It starts off slower, but soon Otis and his band fuse blues, R&B, boogie woogie and funk. Otis become a blues shouter, he’s almost distraught, his vocal full of hurt and heartache. The addition of wah-wah guitars is a masterstroke, resulting in an innovative and inventive track, where electric blues gets a makeover, ensuring it remains relevant.

T-Bone Walker released his first recording in 1929. Forty years later, T-Bone was seen as one of the most innovative and important musicians in the history of music. He was the first guitarist to popularize the electric guitar. Despite being a true pioneer, T-Bone Walker found himself without a recording contract. Bob Thiele, who had worked with T-Bone before at Bluesway, signed the veteran bluesman, who became part of a blues supergroup. Along with Otis Spann and Big Joe Turner, they recorded Super Black Blues in 1969, an album of live blues jams. The followup 1970s Super Black Blues: Volume II was another live album. It featured Sail On, which allows you to hear T-Bone and his all-star band locking into the tightest of grooves and jamming. It’s an impressive sound, this band of blues greats in full flight. 

There are two other tracks from T-Bone Walker on Dues Paid-The Bluestime Story.  Every Day I Have The Blues and For B.B. King featured on a 1973 BluesTime compilation Blue Rocks. For B.B. King is slow, moody and has a late night, bluesy sound. T-Bone Walker unleashes a peerless, crystalline guitar solo. It seems never ending, and for that, you’re eternally grateful. Then on Every Day I Have The Blues, T-Bone Walker showcases both his vocal prowess and guitar playing. They prove a potent combination. Throaty and full of hurt and heartache, it’s the perfect accompaniment to T-Bone Walker’s guitar playing, which demonstrates just why he’s one of the most innovative and pioneering guitarists in the history of blues music.

Although Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson released over twenty albums, he remains one of blues’ best kept musical secrets. His 1957 debut album was Cleanhead’s Back In Town. After that, he released albums for various labels, including the Bob Thiele produced Cherry Red, for Bluesway. In 1970, he released The Original Cleanhead for BluesTime. It features the soul-baring I Needs To Be Be’d Wid. Best described as bluesy, soulful and jazz-tinged, emotion, drama and heartbreak unite. For anyone whose yet to discover Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, this is the perfect starting place.

Malcolm and Chris only ever released one album, Just The Blues. Produced by B.B. King, he brought the album to BluesTime. They released in 1970. It featured the harmonica driven Something So Bright. It’s a track with a country blues sound. Listen carefully, and you’ll hear a track most blues fans will be familiar with. The song has been inspired by the riff from Sonny Boy Williamson’s old blues classic Help Me. It’s as if Malcolm and Chris were brought up on a diet of Chess’ blues classics. This is apparent of Something So Bright, a harmonica driven hidden gem, which features the combined talents of Malcolm Gibson and Chris Keehan.

The Super Black Blues Band were a blues supergroup that featured  T-Bone Walker, Otis Spann and Big Joe Turner. They recorded two albums. Super Black Blues, recorded and released in 1969, was their debut album. It featured Paris Blues, a fourteen minute Magnus Opus. This is a peerless blues jam. Mind you, what do you expect when you bring together some of the greatest musicians in the history of blues music?

Leon Thomas’s Disillusion Blues closes Dues Paid-The BluesTime Story. It’s a track from Super Black Blues: Volume 2. Recorded live, with an all-star band accompanying him, a flourishes of bluesy piano and standup bass accompany Leon. Gone is his usual style. Instead, he’s transformed into a blues shouter. His vocal is a mixture of emotion, drama and humor, on a track which shows another side to Leon Thomas.

A previously unreleased live version of Big Mama Thornton’s Hound Dog is the other track Dues Paid-The BluesTime Story. Back in 1952, Hound Dog gave Big Mama Thornton the biggest hit of her career. It spent seven weeks at number one in the US R&B Charts and sold nearly two million copies. Written by Leiber and Stoller, Big Mama Thronton’s version was perceived as the definitive version, until Elvis recorded it. After that, many people have overlooked her version. That’s a great shame, given the way she breathed life, meaning and energy into the song. She does that again on this live version. Feisty, powerful and sassy describes her take of this classic track.

Featuring fifteen tracks from some of the biggest names in blues music, Dues Paid-The BluesTime Story is one of the best blues compilation of 2013. No wonder. It includes T-Bone Walker, Otis Spann, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and Harmonica Slim. These artists had enjoyed long and successful careers. However, by 1969, when Bob Thiele founded BluesTime, blues music was no longer as popular. It’s popularity had been overtaken by pop, rock and soul. Blues was perceived as the music of yesteryear. That’s despite the groups like the Rolling Stones, Cream and The Animals flying the flag for blues music. Even this didn’t help rejuvenate blues music’s popularity.

So, some of the artists on Dues Paid-The BluesTime Story were almost forgotten. Bob Thiele, who had worked with some of them, decided to try and rejuvenate their career. He paired them with the right material and some of the best session musicians he could find. The result was some of the best music these musicians had recorded in some time. They were rejuvenated and their career enjoyed a brief Indian Summer. Sadly, that Indian Summer lasted as long as BluesTime.

BluesTime was a short-lived label. It lasted little over a year. While it might not have been Bob Thiele’s most successful musical venture, it was music he loved and believed in. He got behind the music and  tried to revive the career of blues legends.  Sadly, many of the albums BluesTime released have never been released on CD before. They’ve lain unloved for over forty years. Thankfully, Ace Records has delved into BluesTime’s back-catalogue and chosen fifteen tracks from them. They became Dues Paid-The BluesTime Story, which was recently released by Ace Records. Hopefully, Ace Records who released Dues Paid-The BluesTime Story will release some of the albums BluesTime released. As Dues Paid-The BluesTime Story shows, BluesTime is a musical treasure trove awaiting discovery. Standout Tracks: Otis Spann I’m A Dues Payin’ Man, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson I Needs To Be Be’d Wid, Big Joe Turner Shake, Rattle And Roll and T-Bone Walker For B.B. King.


Dues Paid. The Bluestime Story

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