New York City Blues.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD.

The golden age of blues in New York was between the forties and sixties. By then, many people had moved from the southeastern states and brought with them southern rural music. Soon, blues music was being heard in ballrooms, clubs, theatres and on the streets of Harlem. It was a far cry from when the music was heard in rural juke joints. 

Suddenly, New York had a rich and vibrant blues scene, and it thrived over from the forties and survived right through to the sixties. Since then, the city’s blues scene has often been overlooked by music fans and musical historians? The big question is why?

What didn’t help the New York blues scene was the lack of big name artists. Other cities were home to well known blues musicians, including giants of the genre. Sadly, this wasn’t the case in the Big Apple. 

However, there was no shortage of blues music produced in the city by many talented musicians. Some who are now regarded as blues legends were only passing through or spent a short time in the city. Others who nowadays, are favourites of blues aficionados made the city their home. This includes many of the artists on New York City Blues, a new compilation that’s just been released by Ace Records.

New York City Blues features twenty-six tracks that cover the golden era and the revival period. The compilation is a tie-in to the book written by Larry Simon and edited by John Broven, who also compiled the CD. It features everyone from Billy Bland, Blind Boy Fuller, Bob Gaddy and Brownie McGhee to Champion Jack Dupree, Dave “Baby” Cortez, Joe Turner, John Hammond and June Bateman. Then there’s Dr Horse, Reverend Gary Davis, Wilbert Harrison, Wild Jimmy Spruil and Ruth Brown and Her Rhythmakers. These are just some of the artists on this lovingly curated compilation.

Opening New York City Blues is New York City Blues – Larry Dale and The Houserockers. It’s a revival period track that was recorded in 1988 for Golden Crest but lay unreleased until 2010 when it featured on The Best Of Golden Crest: 48 Tall Cool Ones. Twelve years later this Kansas-type shuffle makes a welcome return and is a reminder of the late Larry Dale’s skills as a guitarist and vocalist.

Blind Boy Fuller’s Step It Up and Go is the earliest track on the compilation. It was released on Okeh in 1940, and reached number five on the US R&B charts. This made the single the most popular by a truly influential guitarist who inspired future generations of guitarists. 

In 1955, Brownie McGhee released a new versions of My Fault #2 on Savoy. The song had given him a hit seven years earlier in 1948. However, the new and much more melodic version features Sonny Terry on harmonica and guitarist Mickey Baker. Not long after this, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry turned their back on the New York blues’ scene and reinvented themselves as folk musicians.

Bad Blood is taken from Champion Jack Dupree’s 1958 album Blues From The Gutter. It was engineered by Tom Dowd and produced by Jerry Wexler. Nowadays, the album is considered a genre classic and this track is one of its highlights.

Bob Gaddy recorded a cover of T-Bone Walkers’ Stormy Monday Blues for Old Town around 1960. However, the track was never released until it featured on the Ace compilation Rip And Run in 1986. Thirty-six years later this emotive cover returns for an encore on New York City Blues. 

Say No To The Devil was the title-track to Reverend Gary Davis’ 1962 album on Prestige Bluesville.  He started out playing the blues, before turning his attention to gospel. This track is a reminder of a truly talented and influential guitarist, who also taught everyone from Bob Weir to Jon Sebastian.

In 1966, Larry Johnson and Hank Adkins collaborated on the album The Blues/A New Generation. This album of country blues was produced by Samuel Charters and released on Prestige in 1966. One of the highlights of the album is Four Women Blues which showcases the skills of two familiar faces on the New York City Blues’ scene.

Billy Bland wrote Chicken Hop which he released on Old Town in 1954. It’s a country-dance track that featured  Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. 

Blues shouter and pianist Joe Turner was born in Kansas but moved to New York. By 1956, he was signed to Atlantic and had already crossed over into rock ’n’ roll. However, when he released Corrine Corrina as a single, he goes back to his blues’ roots. Tucked away on the B-Side  was the irresistible hidden gem Boogie Woogie Country Girl. It’s one of the many highlights of the compilation.

I Still Love You was released by Buddy and Ella Johnson on Wing, in 1956. The track features the cream of the Big Apple’s session players with Buddy’s sister Ella delivering a tender, heartfelt vocal. This combination results in a truly timeless track. 

Pianist and vocalist Dave “Baby” Cortez released Honey Baby on Okeh in 1958. It sounds as if it was influenced by Little Richard. Sadly, the single which features lead guitarist Jimmy Spruill failed to trouble the charts. That’s a great shame as this oft-overlooked is underrated. It’s a welcome addition to the compilation.

Jimmy Spruill wrote Believe Me, Darling which was recorded by his wife June Bateman for Fury in 1960. This soul-blues ballad features a soul-baring vocal full of emotion. 

Mudcat was recorded by Muddy Waters with Paul Oscher on harmonica for his Live (At Mr. Kelly’s) album. It’s one of the highlights of an album that was released by Chess in 1971.

The two tracks that close New York City Blues are Honky Tonk (Parts 1 and 2).  It was released on King in 1956, and reached number two in the US Billboard 100. This was an important and influential single that’s regarded as launching the R&B instrumental.

For anyone interested in either the golden era of New York City Blues, or the revival period, Ace Records new compilation will be of interest to them. So will the tie-in to the book written by Larry Simon and edited by John Broven, who also compiled the CD. It’s captivating and lovingly curated collection where blues giants rub shoulders with familiar faces and stalwarts of the scene.  

Likewise, for newcomers to blues music then the compilation and book will be part of their musical education. New York City Blues and could be the start of a voyage of discover and a lifelong love affair with one of the most important and influential musical genres.

New York City Blues.

1 Comment

  1. Yup. Joe Turner and “Boogie Woogie Country Girl” is irresistible.

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