FEATURED ARTIST / S
Big Maceo Vol. 2 1945-1950 - Big City Blues
Big Maceo, vocal, piano.
With contributions by: Tamps Red, vocal, guitar; Tyrell Dixon, drums; Eddie Boyd, piano; Big Crawford, bass; Odie Payne, drums; John Brim, guitar; Grace Brim, harmonica; and others…
Genres: Blues, Chicago Blues, Blues Piano.
Informative, illustrated 8 page booklet by Gillian George.
The first 4 tracks of this CD were recorded on the 5th July 1945 in Chicago with Tampa Red and Tyrell Little T Dixon on drums. The opening track, Maceo’s 32-20 (a superlative re-working of ’44 Blues’) is quite remarkable. His vocal phrasing is at times languorous, almost sexual, whilst the piano accompaniment is ominous and unrelenting. Maceo is out looking for his woman with his 32-20 in his hand. He means business!
The band are on form, maybe it was a hot and sultry day in Chicago, perhaps a few drinks had flowed, whatever the circumstances of that recording they produced a session with all the elements of a deep soulful R&B sound that would be later exemplified by Muddy Waters and the Chicago 50’s sound. In the swinging Texas Stomp, Tampa, Maceo and Dixon all banter together encouraging one another to give of their best and give of their best they do…”come on”, they implore on Detroit Jump “show ‘em how to cut a rug”.
Shortly after this session, Maceo was back on the road again no doubt rocking down the house with every appearance. Life must have been good; there were no sad letters to Hattie, no bad news, no money troubles. So good in fact that Maceo was called back to the studio in the middle of that October accompanied, of course, by “Mr Tampa” and for this session with Charles Saunders on drums.
They recorded Wintertime Blues, Won’t Be A Fool No More and Big Road Blues and as Mike Rowe would describe it “the incomparable Chicago Breakdown.
In the summer months of 1946, at the zenith of his popularity, Big Maceo suffered a stroke, initially robbing him of the use of his right side. Paralysed and sick, it would have finished most performers. However, Maceo still had the support of his family and more importantly, the musical community rallied behind him. It is a testament to Maceo’s talent, personality and popularity that he was to enter the studio again in 1947. Of course, Tampa accompanied him. There was Big Crawford on bass and Charles Saunders on drums, but this time it was a young Eddie Boyd on piano. The stricken Maceo was there merely to sing.
Despite this calamity, Maceo still has the fire in his belly and his vocals are as strong as ever. Eddie Boyd swings along and the band, all in all, does a fine job. If Maceo had been fit and well it would have been a more pleasurable experience to listen to them but the thought of his crumpled frame somehow diminishes the quality of the band’s work for many listeners. Close friends and family stuck by him but RCA dropped him immediately after that 1947 session.
Unbelievably, he was to be back in the studio again in either April 1948 or April 1949. Mike Rowe talks of Art Rupe from the Speciality Label turning up in Chicago in 1948 to record Roosevelt Sykes. As it transpired there were contractual difficulties with Sykes and it was suggested to Rupe that he approach Maceo. Johnny Jones gives an almost Maceo like performance on the keyboard and with a backing band like that the session could hardly fail to please. Mike Rowe says of Maceo’s recordings at this time “…in spite of his physical condition sang beautifully in that soft, warm smoky brown voice”. Maceo must have been remarkable or perhaps it was those musicians around him that were so loyal and remarkable.
It had been commonly assumed that a “down and out” Big Maceo came under the wing of John Brim and his last recordings on Fortune came as a result of his relationship with Brim. However, John Brim, (alive and well at the time of writing) states that it was in fact Big Maceo himself who invited the Brims to join him at the Fortune recording session.
Sadly, the Fortune recordings featured here are of poor quality in themselves with the trio of musicians sounding dissonant. There is not the musical melding of minds as in the halcyon days of Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy. Tampa and Maceo were not to work together again, Tampa inevitably had moved on taking Johnny Jones as a regular piano accompanist with him now. John Brim stated that Maceo worked right up to his final stroke and heart attack that killed him.