FEATURED ARTIST / S
Roosevelt Sykes Vol 4 1934 – 1936
Roosevelt Sykes, vocal, piano.
With contributions by;
Johnnie Strauss, vocal.
Arthur McKay, vocal.
Dorothy Baker, vocal.
Kokomo Arnold, slide guitar.
Genres: Blues Piano, Pre-war Blues, Country Blues Bottleneck-slide Guitar.
From this CD’s booklet notes.
The fourth volume in Document's Complete Recorded Works covers Roosevelt Sykes' career from late 1934 to mid-1936, a period during which he introduced his signature tune "Honeydripper," along with Soft and Mellow (Stella Blues), the bawdy gem Dirty Mother for You, and a few songs with vocalists Johnnie Strauss and Arthur McKay.
In August 1934, the 28 year old Roosevelt Sykes assembled a roster that seems like most of the available blues talent in St. Louis, and took them to Chicago to record for Decca. Including himself, there were no fewer than five piano players in the bunch - Lee Green, Barrelhouse Buck McFarland, Peetie Wheatstraw and Henry Brown. It seems certain that the first two titles cut by the ripsaw voiced female singer Johnnie Strauss were accompanied by Brown, but the complex right hand and unexpected endings identify Sykes on Radio Broadcasting Blues and Old Market Street Blues. After the success of this venture, it's odd that Sykes didn't record for Decca again for 18 months; when he did, however, it was the start of an association that lasted for five years, and marked the end of his label hopping ways. Decca billed him by the nickname Edith Johnson had bestowed seven years earlier - The Honey Dripper.
Sykes on Decca, though still capable of sensitive slow blues like She Left Me Cold In Hand, seems to have been encouraged to give vent to his more extrovert side - compare the romping Dirty Mother For You, and the storming version of Cow Cow Blues, The Cannon Ball. "Dirty Mother For You" like D.B.A. Blues (Dirty Black Ass), express the bawdy side that Decca also seem to have liked, although the unissued "Inches One" and "Joy Boy" seem to indicate that there were limits to their tolerance.
Sykes was hitting a winning streak as a songwriter about this time, penning a number of enduring classics; Driving Wheel Blues, included here is among them.
The Honey Dripper's recording of The Honey Dripper featured Kokomo Arnold, playing brilliant improvisations on slide guitar; thereafter it was to be two years before Roosevelt Sykes made a session other than as a solo pianist/vocalist, and even then, he was joined only by bass and drums. Decca seem to have recognised that in Roosevelt Sykes, they had a reliably productive songwriter and a pianist whose playing was inventive and forceful enough to stand on its own. "I seemed to be popular with the fellers that was runnin' the record business", he observed to Paul Oliver in 1960; that was so partly because of his nose for a potential recording artist, but also because he himself was popular with black record purchasers.