by Bruce Sylvester
The 2018 edition of Blues Images' annual wall calendar (with CD) and is now out. Of course, it's a pleasure – and an education too – for those of us who love early recorded blues. The format of “Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920s, Vol. 15” is the same as before. Each month, the 12”x24” calendar features a song's original ad or a publicity photo of the performer. Days on the calendar identify noted blues acts' births and deaths. There's also a quote from each month's song and a paragraph on the song or performer. Reaching from 1927 to 1935, the accompanying CD has the songs plus 12 bonus tracks.
The calendar and CD open with Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie's rough-edged 1929 “Frisco Town.” (“You can toot your whistle, you can ring your bell. You can toot your whistle, you can ring your bell. Well, I know you've been running by the way you smell. I'm on my way to that Frisco town.”) As the paragraph relates, “Though fresh from the streets of Memphis, Tennessee, neither performer had been cleaned up for their first professional portrait, plainly evident in the photograph above.”
February brings us Tampa Red and Georgia Tom's suggestive “Strewin' Your Mess,” whose lyrics reference earlier hokum songs. (Tom's religious conversion and subsequent self-reinvention as songwriter Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey would come later.) March offers Blind Lemon Jefferson's “Hot Dogs.” April honors the anniversary of the Titanic sinking with Blind Willie Johnson's intense “God Moves on the Water.” Bertha Henderson and Johnnie “Geechie” Temple are among the less known acts. Temple's eerie 1935 “The Evil Devil Blues” adapts his friend Skip James's “Devil Got My Woman.” December ends the year on an upbeat note with Rev. Steamboat Bill's Revival Singers' “Happy as the Day Is Long.”
As for the CD's bonus tracks, five are flip sides of the original 78 RPM platters shown on the calendar, so our listening experience can be a bit like people's way back then. After all, “Hot Dogs” ends with Blind Lemon telling us to turn the record over. For balance, “Frisco Town”'s flip was “Goin' Back to Texas.” The bonuses also include both sides of discs by “Hi” Henry Brown and by Sam Butler (AKA Bo Weevil Jackson) as well as a recently discovered 78 by Jab Jones and the Memphis Jug Band.
Thanks to the American Epic series's remastering process, in general the audio is cleaner than on some earlier Blues Images calendars' CDs. Inevitably, rare copies of obscure 78s (especially those on Paramount, which gave scant attention to sound quality) aren't always immaculate. It's a price we pay when discovering long-lost obscurities.
Blues Images, helmed by blues devotee John Tefteller, is based in Grants Pass, OR. For ordering info and listings of its various products, check www.bluesimages.com.