CULT CLASSIC: GUITAR SLIM GREEN’S “STONE DOWN BLUES” WITH JOHNNY AND SHUGGIE OTIS.
Cult Classic: Guitar Slim Green’s “Stone Down Blues” With Johnny and Shuggie Otis.
Guitar Slim Green was never the most prolific of musicians despite his career lasting four decades. However, during that period, he only released a handful of recordings. This included his one and only album, Stone Down Blues, which was released in 1970 and featured Johnny and Shuggie Otis. Sadly, five years later, the multitalented Guitar Slim Green passed away on September the ‘28th’ 1975 aged just fifty-five. His story began in Oklahoma in 1920.
That’s where Guitar Slim Green was born Norman G. Green on 25th July 1920. Growing up, he played guitar and dreamt of making a living as a musician. However, that was just a dream. Even when he moved to Las Vegas in his early twenties.
Las Vegas was home to Norman G. Green until 1947. In 1947, he moved to California where his dreams came true. Norman G. Green became a musician and Guitar Slim Green was eventually born.
Like many other guitarists, his inspiration was one of music’s most flamboyant showmen, T-Bone Walker. He had pioneered the electric guitar and through listening to his playing Norman G. Green developed his own distinctive style and this resulted in him making a breakthrough.
This came when he got the chance to work with J.D. Nickelson and he featured on the singles, Strange Woman Blues and Bouncing Boogie. They were released on Courtney Records. Not long after this, Norman G. Green released his debut single.
Alla Blues was credited to R. Green and Turner, and released on the J&M Fullbright label. This song would eventually become a blues standard.
The followup to Alla Blues was Baby I Love You, which was released on the Murray label. It was credited to R. Green, and essentially was, Norman G. Green’s debut solo single. The two singles were well received, and showed the future Guitar Slim Green evolving from a country blues singer, to a much more urban, contemporary sound.
Having released his debut single, Guitar Slim Green moved to Fresno, where he played alongside Jimmy McCracklin and L.C. Robinson. Then in 1957, Norman headed to Los Angeles, where he formed his own band.
In Los Angeles, Guitar Slim Green and his band The Cats recorded two singles during 1957. This included My Woman Done Quit Me, where Guitar Slim Green takes charge of the vocal. Both singles were produced by Johnny Otis, who would reenter Guitar Slim Green’s life in 1970. Before that,he had more music to make.
Another two years passed before Guitar Slim Green released another single. Scratch My Back was released in 1959, and would be the last single he released until 1968.
Having been away from a recording studio for nine years, Guitar Slim Green was keen to record some new music. He recorded singles on the Gee Note and Solid Soul labels but the singles sunk without trace. Guitar Slim Green’s career looked as if it was at a crossroads. His music critics remarked, hadn’t evolved. What Guitar Slim Green needed, was someone who could get his career back on track.
Luckily, Johnny Otis was about to reenter Guitar Slim Green’s life. Johnny Otis had turned his back on music for much of the sixties. Instead, he had been concentrating on Democratic politics and community projects. However, he still kept practising and by the end of the decade was ready to make a comeback.
Encouraged by his friend Frank Zappa, Johnny Otis returned to music. He signed to Kent and recorded two albums, Cold Shot and Snatch and The Poontangs. He also signed Preston Love to Kent, and produced his Omaha Bar-B-Q album. The other artist Johnny Otis signed to Kent was Guitar Slim Green.
Although Guitar Slim Green had released a number of singles, he had never released an album. This was about to change. Johnny Otis and Guitar Slim Green set about to write material for Guitar Slim Green’s comeback album.
Eventually, Guitar Slim Green and Johnny had penned ten tracks. Shake Em Up, Bumble Bee Blues, Make Love All Night, My Little Angel, You Make Me Feel So Good, Big Fine Thing and Play On Little Girl. 5th Street Alley Blues and Old Folk Blues were written by Guitar Slim Green. Johnny contributed This War Ain’t Right. These ten tracks would become Stone Down Blues.
When recording of Stone Down Blues began, Guitar Slim Green played guitar and added vocals. Producer Johnny Otis played drums and his seventeen year old son Shuggie Otis played bass, guitar, piano and harmonica. They were joined on Bumble Bee Blues by pianist Roger Spotts. It wasn’t long before Once Stone Down Blues was completed, and it was scheduled for release in 1970.
On the release of Stone Down Blues in 1970, on Kent, the album sunk without trace. For Guitar Slim Green, Stone Down Blues it was a huge disappointment and an inauspicious end to his recording career. Never again, would he set foot in a recording studio again.That’s a great shame given the quality of his one and only album Stone Down Blues.
Shake Em Up opens Stone Down Blues and was Guitar Slim Green’s attempt to launch a dance craze. He unleashes a chiming, crystalline guitar and is accompanied by the Otis’ funky rhythm section. Meanwhile, Guitar Slim Green vamps his way through the song and is accompanied by some searing, blistering licks. They play their part in a contemporary sounding track where Guitar Slim Green delivers a guitar masterclass.
Bumble Bee Blues sees a return to a much more traditional bluesy sound. The arrangement is slow, moody and bluesy. As the rhythm section create a churning arrangement, Shuggie Otis blows a blues harmonica and a piano plays slowly. Guitar Slim Green delivers a needy, hopeful vocal. Then when his vocal drops out the blues harp blows. It’s joined by the rhythm section and piano and together, they provide a glorious bluesy backdrop, before Guitar Slim Green returns, to deliver a hopeful vocal.
Johnny and Shuggie Otis provide a driving arrangement on Make Love All Night. Meanwhile, Guitar Slim Green delivers a bravado fuelled, vampish vocal. Then when his vocal drops out, he unleashes a searing guitar solo. All the time, crystalline guitar licks and the rhythm section drive the bluesy arrangement along, as Guitar Slim Green struts his way through the lyrics on what’s one of Stone Down Gone’s highlights.
Guitar Slim Green takes centrestage on My Little Angel. Meanwhile, Johnny’s drums provide the heartbeat and Shuggie’s bass adds a bluesy hue. Flourishes of piano accompany Guitar Slim Green’s soul-baring vocal as he lays bare his hurt and heartbreak to hear. His guitar playing is just as good. Especially when accompanied by Shuggie Otis on piano. He’s the perfect foil for Guitar Slim Green as he unleashes some of virtuoso licks and tricks.
Slow, moody and bluesy describes 5th Street Alley Blues. That’s down to the rhythm section and chirping, searing guitars. They join the piano, and play slowly, as Guitar Slim Green delivers a despairing vocal. As he sings: “where can my baby she went down 5th Sreet Alley and left me in misery,” it’s as if Guitar Slim Green’s lived and survived the lyrics.
A bass bounds, guitars ring out and hi-hats hiss on Old Folk Blues. Guitar Slim Green seems to be paying homage to John Lee Hooker. Both his vocal and guitar are similar in sound. Guitar Slim Green is like a man inspired as he unleashes some searing, ringing licks and a vocal full of emotion and hope.
This War Ain’t Right was an ant-war song penned by Johnny Otis. As Guitar Slim Green delivers a slow, pensive vocal, a jangling piano plays. It’s accompanied by a shuffling rhythm section and chiming, chirping guitar licks. However, Guitar Slim Green’s vocal takes centre-stage. This allows you to focus on the lyrics. That’s until it’s time for Guitar Slim Green to unleash what’s easily, one of his best solos. After that, he considers the folly of war, on this poignant anti-war blues.
The tempo rises on You Make Me Feel So Good. Straight away, the piano and rhythm section drive the arrangement along and provide a backdrop for Guitar Slim Green’s vocal. It veers between joyous, to frustrated. Later, Shuggie Otis unleashes a blistering guitar solo as Guitar Slim Green vamps his way through the lyrics. Once again, Shuggie Otis proves the perfect foil for Guitar Slim Green as they drive each other to greater heights.
Big Fine Thing sounds as if it was recorded in the late fifties. It’s best described as a vintage sounding blues, with much more stripped down sound. As the rhythm section leave space, Shuggie blows his blues harmonica. Meanwhile, Guitar Slim Green delivers a vampish vocal, paying homage to his “Big Fine Thing.” He also unleashes some crystalline, searing licks. They’re the perfect accompaniment to Shuggie Otis bluesy harmonica. Together, they add the finishing touches to this vintage sounding blues.
Play On Little Girl closes Stone Down Blues and sees the tempo drop. It’s slow, broody and bluesy as the rhythm section join a jangling piano and Guitar Slim Green’s crystalline guitar. As it rings out and flourishes of piano accompany Guitar Slim Green’s despairing, hurt-filled vocal. It soars above the arrangement and he lays bare his broken heart. Accusingly and despairingly, he sings “Play On Little Girl keep on playing till you break up your happy home.” The way Guitar Slim Green sings the lyrics, it’s as if he’s been there, and survived to tell the tale.
Fifty years ago, Guitar Slim Green belatedly released his debut album. He had been a musician for twenty-three years, but had only released a handful of singles. When Johnny Otis reentered Guitar Slim Green’s career, he got him a recording contract with Kent.
Back then, Kent were no longer the powerhouse they once were. Neither was Johnny Otis. He was once one of the biggest names in R&B. However, music had changed and that’s partly why Johnny Otis sat out much of the sixties. Then in the late sixties, he made a comeback. He signed to Kent and released two albums. Despite their quality, they didn’t fare well. Johnny Otis it seemed, was no longer a big star. However, he was a talented musician and producer. This made him the ideal person to kickstart Guitar Slim Green’s career.
Together, Johnny and Guitar Slim Green wrote the ten tracks on Stone Down Blues. Johnny brought his seventeen year old son onboard for the recording of Stone Down Blues. The young virtuoso almost stole the show on several occasions. This seemed to spur Johnny and Guitar Slim Green on. They unleashed a series of spellbinding performances. Guitar Slim Green was like a man reborn. Surely, his career was about to be reborn?
Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Guitar Slim Green’s debut album, Stone Down Blues sunk without trace. It was the age old story. Stone Down Blues was the wrong album at the wrong time. Blues was no longer as popular as it had once was.
While the blues enjoyed a brief resurgence in interest, music had moved on. What also didn’t help was that Kent was no longer the force it once was. It’s no surprise Stone Down Blues failed to be heard by a wider audience. Sadly, they missed out on this vastly underrated album, Stone Down Blues which marked Guitar Slim Green’s comeback.
Some fifty years later after the release of Stone Down Blues in 1970, it is regarded as a cult classic and is held in highest regard by blues fans who believe the album features some of the finest recordings of Guitar Slim Green’s four decade career.
Cult Classic: Guitar Slim Green’s “Stone Down Blues” With Johnny and Shuggie Otis.