Editor’s note: Please welcome the newest addition to American Blues Scene online: “This Week in Blues Past”! You asked for a weekly summary of our daily blues history on Facebook and we listened! Come visit each Monday, where we will be listing the top ten events in blues history in chronological order.
1. Arhoolie Records
November 3rd, 1960: The first Arhoolie Records album arrived from the pressing plant for distribution. It was 250 copies of Mance Lipscomb’s Texas Sharecropper and Songster recorded by Arhoolie founder, Chris Strachwitz in Navasota, Texas. Other artists recorded on that Texas trip included “Black Ace” Turner, “Lil’ Son” Jackson and “Whistling” Alex Moore. Later in the year Strachwitz recorded Big Joe Williams and Mercy Dee Walton in California. The label, based in El Cerrito, California still produces Blues, Folk, Tejano, Cajun, Zydeco, Bluegrass and other forms of Roots music and artists recorded on the label include Big Mama Thornton, Walter Horton, Dave Alexander, Nathan Beauregard, Juke Boy Bonner, Clifton Chenier, Elizabeth Cotten, Sue Draheim, Jesse Fuller, Earl Hooker, John Jackson, Guitar Slim, Robert Shaw, Mississippi Fred McDowell, George ‘Bongo Joe’ Coleman, Charlie Musselwhite, Doctor Ross, Bukka White, Silas Hogan, The Campbell Brothers, BeauSoleil, Jerry Hahn, the Savoy Family Band and the Pine Leaf Boys. Strachwitz was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1999.
2. Delbert McClinton
November 4th, 1940: Singer-songwriter, guitarist, harmonicist and pianist, Delbert McClinton was born in Lubbock, Texas. Moving to Ft. Worth at age 11, McClinton’s first professional gigs were with the group, The Straitjackets, backing Sonny Boy Williamson II, Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Jimmy Reed. A Grammy Award winner, he has charted on the Blues, Pop, Mainstream Rock and Hot Country charts, with his song, “B Movie Boxcar Blues” being covered by the Blues Brothers on their debut album. Five of his albums have charted on the Blues charts with four of them going to #1. He’s worked with the Rondells, Emmylou Harris, Bruce Channel, Don Wise and Tanya Tucker and gave harmonica lessons to John Lennon during a European package tour in 1962.
3. Ike Turner
November 5th, 1931: Ike Turner was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi. A musician, bandleader, songwriter, arranger, talent scout, and record producer, Turner began playing guitar and piano at age 8 and formed the Kings of Rhythm while still a teenager. It was this band, billed as Jackie Brenston & The Delta Cats that recorded what is commonly regarded as the first rock and roll song, “Rocket 88” in 1951. Turner played the Chitlin Circuit with artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Bobby “Blue” Bland. His partnership with wife, Tina Turner, brought a multitude of hit music, but also allegations of abuse and drug use that plagued him for the rest of his career. Addicted to cocaine and crack for at least 15 years, Turner was convicted of drug offenses, serving seventeen months in prison between July 1989 and 1991 and although he kicked the habit, he returned to his drug use around 2004 and died from a cocaine overdose combined with emphysema and heart problems on December 12th, 2007, but not before winning the Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album in that year with Risin’ With the Blues. He was also inducted, along with Tina, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
4. Robert Nighthawk
November 5th, 1967: Slide Blues guitar master, Robert Nighthawk died of heart failure in his hometown of Helena, Arkansas at the age of 57. Born Robert Lee McCollum on November 30th, 1909, he left home at an early age to be a busking musician throughout southern Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee. He changed his name to Robert Lee McCoy in the mid 1930s and moved to St. Louis, Missouri where he played with Henry Townsend, Big Joe Williams, and Sonny Boy Williamson. He continued to ramble around, singing and recording until around 1946 when Robert Lee McCoy disappeared and within a few years resurfaced as electric slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk. He recorded a great deal, but never achieved commercial success and again dropped out of sight. He was rediscovered busking on Maxwell Street in Chicago in 1963 which led to more recording and club dates as well as his return to Helena, however he did continue to travel back and forth performing on King Biscuit Time on KFFA and busking Maxwell Street. Nighthawk is the father of Blues musician Sam Carr and was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1983.
5. Boston Blackie
November 6th, 1943: Electric Blues guitarist and singer, dubbed Boston Blackie, Bennie Joe Houston was born in Panola, Alabama. Influenced by Magic Sam and Otis Rush, Blackie had a very aggressive guitar style which he mixed with a high, soulful singing voice. He played throughout the 1960s on Chicago’s West Side as a member of Sweetman and the Sugar Boys and with artists such as Otis “Big Smokey” Smothers, Little Milton, Johnny B. Moore and Lee Shot Williams. On July 11th, 1993, Blackie was shot and killed by James “Tail Dragger” Jones allegedly over profits from their performance at the Chicago Blues Festival. Most contend that it was self defense and Jones was convicted on a manslaughter charge and served 17 months in jail.
6. Rory Block
November 6th, 1949: Notable exponent of the Country Blues style, Rory Block was born in Princeton, New Jersey. Her father owned a sandal shop in Greenwich Village and she grew up surrounded by the Folk scene of the time including Maria Muldaur and John Sebastian. At the age of 14, having been studying classical guitar, she was first introduced to Mississippi Delta Blues music and at age 15 she left home to seek out and learn from the remaining giants of the genre such as Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, and Son House. She has been steadily releasing albums since 1967 but recently has been focusing on albums covering the music of the Delta masters, Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, Son House, Mississippi John Hurt and her latest release, Hard Luck Child: A Tribute to Skip James. An extremely talented acoustic and slide guitarist, Block has won 5 W.C. Handy Awards and 3 awards from the American Association of Independent Music.
7. John Lee Hooker
November 7th, 1996: John Lee Hooker was the recipient of the The Blues Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Born the son of a sharecropper in Coahoma County, Mississippi, Hooker took the styles of the Delta Blues, the Talking Blues and North Mississippi Blues and combined them into a driving boogie-woogie style all his own. Other accolades bestowed upon him were a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999, the George and Ira Gershwin Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997, the National Heritage Fellowship in 1983 and his inductions into both the Blues Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was also a 4 time Grammy winner.
8. Bonnie Raitt
November 8th, 1949: Bonnie Lynn Raitt was born in Burbank, California. The daughter of a Broadway musical star and a pianist, Raitt took up the guitar at a young age, developing a bottleneck style that gained her notice. She was opening for Mississippi Fred McDowell at the Gaslight Cafe in New York in 1970 when a reporter from Newsweek Magazine took notice and began to spread the word about her, garnering her a recording contract and the release of her first album in 1971. An avid political activist, Raitt has been involved in a number of activities across the world, but has also recorded with artists such as Roy Orbison, Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, John Lee Hooker, Keb’ Mo’ and many others. She has won 10 Grammy Awards and has been nominated for 16 more. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010.
9. Kokomo Arnold
November 8th, 1968: Left-handed slide Blues guitarist and singer, James “Kokomo” Arnold died of a heart attack in Chicago, Illinois at the age of 67. He was born on February 15th, 1901 in Lovejoy’s Station, Georgia and began playing in the early 1920s as a sideline while he worked as a farmhand in Buffalo, New York, and as a steelworker in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, having learned guitar from his cousin, John Wiggs. He moved to Chicago and set up a bootlegging business in 1929, becoming a major player in the Chicago Blues scene along with Peetie Wheatstraw and Bumble Bee Slim. Arnold’s songs were very influential. So much, in fact, that Robert Johnson turned “Old Original Kokomo Blues” (a song Arnold adapted from Scrapper Blackwell’s “Kokomo Blues”) into “Sweet Home Chicago”, “Milk Cow Blues” into “Milkcow’s Calf Blues”, and another Arnold song, “Sagefield Woman Blues”, introduced the line, “dust my broom”, which Johnson used as a song title himself. Arnold recorded 88 sides between 1934 and 1938 when he left music to work in a Chicago factory. He was rediscovered by Blues researchers in 1962 but had no interest in getting back into music, just to play Blues for young, white audiences.
10. Susan Tedeschi
November 9th, 1970: Susan Tedeschi was born in Boston, Massachusetts. She made her first public performance as an understudy in a Broadway musical at age 6. Her vocal influences include Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt, while her guitar work is influenced by Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Freddie King and Doyle Bramhall, II. With a music degree from Berklee, she began performing as an opening act for Guy, B.B. King, Taj Mahal, the Rolling Stones and, in 1999 for the Allman Brothers where she met, and later married guitarist Derek Trucks. Shortly thereafter Tedeschi’s band and Trucks’ band combined and began performing as Soul Stew Revival until in 2010, when they both announced a hiatus from their solo bands, and formed a new group called Tedeschi Trucks Band. She has been nominated for 6 Grammy Awards and won for Best Blues Album in 2012 with the Tedeschi Trucks Band for the album, Revelator.