Henry’s Virtual Blueshouse no. 6

There’s been a lot of worrying news coming out of Italy over the last couple of months, but tonight we’ve got something a bit more cheerful to share with you all.   Tonight at 8pm we’re premiering a specially recorded performance from The Blues Against Youth, recorded in Gianni’s aprtment in Rome. Rumour has it a new live album from his trip to Henry’s back in January is in the works – watch this space for news of that.  
Click here to watch tonight’s livestream  
And speaking of Italy, a few weeks back we received this video message from Paolo Fornara, pianoman in The Jim Dandies. We hope to have them back at Henry’s before too long, but in the meantime check out the video for The Hottest Girl In Town.  
And don’t forget, if you miss any of our live broadcasts, the videos will still be there for you to watch at your leisure, along with a whole load of other great stuff from the last year of Henry’s, over on the Big Bear Music Youtube channel.  
Whatever Happened To Billy The Kid?
If you enjoyed last week’s American Blues Legends 79 listening party, then be sure to check out Jim’s latest video, where he asks – whatever happened to Billy The Kid Emerson?    The full album, featuring two tracks from the venerable Emerson is available to listen to on all your favourite streaming platforms, not to mention ours – good old fashioned vinyl! Not to mention as a stylish T-shirt…  
Click here to listen to American Blues Legends ’79  
Happy Birthday Homesick
This Thursday would have been the 100 and somethingth birthday of the legendary Homesick James. Jim shares his reminisences of the colourful character:

Every time that I look back on those wonderful, now long gone original American Blues musicians that Big Bear worked with, sometimes recorded, sometimes toured, usually both, I still get a jolt remembering how close these guys had been to the very fountainhead of The Blues.

Mystery surrounds the birth date of John A. Williamson who might have been born as James Williams, William James or John William Henderson, but known throughout the blues world as Homesick James. Various sources date his birth as 1905, 1907 or 1910. One late night, in the bar of the Hotel Memling in Aalter, Belgium, he, and his long time cohort Snooky Pryor convinced me that he had served in 1918 in a Black regiment, in France during the First World War when he was 16. That would put his date of birth as 1902.

Although one of the purest of all the Mississippi Delta bluesmen, Home was born in Lafayette County, Somerville, Tennessee, one of at least 13 children to unmarried parents. He was singing and playing slide guitar by the age of ten, in local bars, dances, fish fries, soon hooking up with Blind Boy Fuller, Yank Rachell, Big Joe Williams, Sleepy John Estes, playing for tips on street corners, hoboing and appearing in the juke joints of Mississippi Tennessee and North Carolina.

Homesick settled, sort of, in Chicago around 1930. He had first recorded in 1927, in Memphis, for Victor and seemed, for a time to have made his base there, with his band, The Dusters, recording again, this time for Vocalion with Buddy Doyle. Then it was back on the road, hoboing across the USA into the 1940s, before it was back to Chicago, in the early 50s, playing with Sonny Boy Williamson – the original, John Lee Williamson, not to be confused with Rice Miller, (who appropriated the originals’ name) – playing with Chicago’s fine bluesmen.  

He recorded prolifically, including a session at Chess Records with the man said to be Home’s cousin, Elmore James. Homesick always claimed that he bought Elmore his first electric guitar and taught him to play. Who’s to say that he didn’t? In 1963 Elmore died on Home’s couch in his Chicago apartment while the latter frantically searched for Elmore’s heart pills.

I first worked with Homesick on Big Bear’s first Blues Legends package which, from January 26th to March 1st 1973 toured UK and Europe, appearing before 35,000 people in 33 concerts in 35 days. The show visited 10 countries, appeared on three TV and seven radio shows and recorded American Blues legends ’73. With Homesick were his long-time Chicago cohort Snooky Pryor, Lightnin’ Slim, Whispering Smith, Boogie Woogie Red and Washboard Willie with Birmingham musicians Roger Hill on bass guitar and Tom Farnell on drums.

Homesick was subsequently to tour several more times for Big Bear and record the albums Homesick James & Snooky Pryor, American Blues Legends ’75, Home Sweet Homesick James and contribute to the recordings The Blues Volumes 3,4 and 5 and the double album compilation Don’t Worry’ Bout The Bear.

Homesick James was a powerful and compelling slide guitarist and singer, wild and unpredictable in both his playing and in his off-stage behaviour. He was a man who could be extremely difficult to work with, could start a fight in an empty room, but it was easy to forgive his extravagant behaviour. When not in his cups, he had the sweetest of personalities and I remember Homesick James with great affection.
I am still, incurably in awe of his prowess as one of the really great blues slide guitar men.

Homesick James died in Springfield, Missouri, on December 13th 2006. He was 96 years old. Or 99. Or 101 – or by his own reckoning, 104 years old.    
Click here to listen to Home Sweet Homesick James  
Sweet Home Chicago
Photo Jim Simpson  
The Nitecrawlers take us on a trip to Sweet Home Chicago:    Most of us blues fans enjoy a little of that infectious up-tempo skip-beat Chicago blues. its influence can be spotted underpinning music as diverse as rock, disco, funk, and soul, while even Hendrix’s distortion and feedback can be traced back to Chicago. But Chicago blues didn’t arrive out of nowhere, and the Chicago style was itself an amalgam of sounds.  

In the 30’s Helena down in Arkansas was one of the Deltas busiest riverports, and to satisfy the demands of the predominantly black sailors and dockworkers, a healthy blues scene developed. It was a music with a more stomping, muscular, boogie beat than the old down-home country blues, and it was fiercely competitive too. It was where Rice Miller (Sonny Boy Williamson II), Robert Lockwood (one of the first electric guitarists), Jimmy Rogers and Little Walter amongst others developed their styles.   But all the time people kept leaving Helena to work for better money in the big industrial cities like Chicago, so of course eventually the musicians followed, because those hardworking people had a little money in their pockets and needed to have themselves a good night out.  

But Chicago was a bigger and much noisier town, and the incredibly raucous big city bars demanded an even noisier music to cut through it all. A big band along with lots of brass would do it, but that was an expensive business that no-one could afford, and so the new electric guitar, amplified vocals and harmonica became the obvious solution. As Muddy Waters admitted, he didn’t even enjoy playing electric guitar too much back then but it sure cut through the noise.  

In the 30’s and 40’s another brand of music called Jump Blues had become a really big thing, so big that its chief exponent Louis Jordan and his band had even featured in several Hollywood films. A sort of hybrid mix, Jump Blues bridged the gap between jazz and blues.

With humorous, novelty lyrics underpinned by boogie woogie piano, a jazzy rhythm section, and some horns punching out a riff, Jump Blues just got everybody dancing.   Some of the more astute bluesmen now living in Chicago like Sonny Boy, Elmore James, Muddy and Little Walter thought maybe they should take this Jump Blues thing on board, and they began incorporating their own version of it into some their songs.  

And that was all you needed, just fuse some boisterous Chicago bar rooms with some good time Helena blues, mix in electricity and Jump combined with some fine and experienced musicianship, and a little touch of hometown blues, stir it all together and it’s just a short trip home to Chicago blues.