FEATURED ARTIST / S
Roosevelt Sykes Vol 3 1931 – 1933
Roosevelt Sykes vocal, piano
With contributions by;
James “Stump” Johnson, vocal.
Mathew McLure, vocal.
(Artie) Mosby, violin
Eithel Smith, vocal.
Isabel Sykes, vocal.
Clarence Harris, vocal.
Frank Pluitt, vocal.
Carl Rafferty, vocal.
Napoleon Fletcher, vocal.
Genres; Piano Blues, Male Vocal Blues, Female Vocal Blues. “Pre-war Blues”.
Informative Booklet Notes by Chris Smith.
Includes detailed discography.
From this CDs booklet notes:
Roosevelt Sykes' stature as a blues singing pianist of the first order is sometimes undermined by the length of his career and the sheer volume of his recorded output. It's the usual case of familiarity breeding, if not exactly contempt, complacent acceptance.
Listening to the first six volumes of Document's seven volume set of Sykes' pre-war recordings it is easy to recognize the basis of this longevity; quite simply put he was bloody good! His piano style was 'two-handed', virile and variable. He could pound with best of 'em, roll out the forty fours and then supply an accompaniment both delicate and apt enough to enhance (sometimes salvage) any vocal performance. His own vocals lacked the introverted, autobiographical overtones of Carr and his approach to a lyric tended to be much more objective. Nevertheless he had a warm, easily understood voice and knew when to holler and when to reason. It sometimes seems that all the worthwhile blues lyrics that seemed so new in the fifties and sixties, from Jimmy Cotton's "Cotton Crop Blues" to Ray Charles' "Night Time Is The Right Time", had already spent some time in Sykes' mouth, usually competing for space with a huge cigar!
The third volume of Roosevelt Sykes recordings features 23 tracks recorded between September 1931 and December 1933 featuring Sykes, still in his twenties, either as a lead, named, recording artist or in an accompanying role. In addition to being a professional musician, he also acted as a talent scout and many of the artists here are, no doubt, performers he brought to the studio. Sykes, himself, sings on eight of the songs here with other stand-out performances by James "Stump" Johnson, Matthew McLure, Eithel Smith and Isabel Sykes (possibly his sister) among others.
Roosevelt dueats with violinist, Curtis (or perhaps Artie) Mosby, quite a sophisticated musician, with apparent influences from white fiddle styles. The two of them blend extremely well on “Mosby Stomp”. “Mr. Sykes Blues” and “Highway 61 Blues” were two of Sykes’ finest recordings in the whole of his long career; the former is a classic illustration of his remarkable right hand technique, while “Highway 61”, though equally a classic, is quite unlike his usual style, sounding like a bottleneck guitar piece transferred to piano, with a very free rhythm, a drone bass, and a right hand that mimics the vocal line rather than accompanying it.
Victor’s response to the Depression had included the launch in January 1933 of two cheap labels with defiantly optimistic names: Sunrise, which didn’t last long, and Bluebird, which was to be much more enduring. By the end of that year, Roosevelt Sykes was both recording for the new labels and repeating the talent scouting job he’d earlier done for Champion. His own recordings that day show him to have been in good form; his singing on “Big Legs Ida Blues” was especially impressive.
Even when relegated to accompanying role Sykes' playing is so outstanding that the sometimes the vocals can be overlooked. Of Frank Pluitt’s two songs, one has not been recovered: “Found A Note On My Door” was backed with “Meningitis Blues” for its issue on Victor, but no copy seems to survive. It's to be regretted for “Meningitis Blues” sounds likely to have been more interesting than Napoleon Fletcher’s laconic doubles entendres on the Bluebird/Sunrise coupling. Clarence Harris and Carl Rafferty were more worthwhile artists than Fletcher, Harris an amateur-sounding singer who may well have genuinely been advertising his own tavern on “Try My Whiskey Blues”, and Rafferty a purveyor of two excellent lyrics, one ingeniously salacious, the other an early variant of “Dust My Broom”.
Of Eithel Smith and Matthew McClure, nothing seems to be known apart from their recordings.